THE SHOW "1600 Penn"
WHEN | WHERE Previews Monday night at 9:30 on NBC/4; premieres in its regular Thursday-at-9:30 slot on Jan. 10.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The president of these United States, Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman), has some massive challenges before him, but perhaps none quite as massive as First Son Skip (Josh Gad, "The Book of Mormon"), who's got a big heart, good intentions and inability to keep them from mucking up official business in the Oval Office.
He's a friendly bull in a china shop, and yes, china does figure in a later episode. In tonight's preview, the president hosts leaders of some major Latin American countries; predictably, chaos ensues (yes, Skip is in the house). The First Mom is Emily (Jenna Elfman), who is actually Skip's stepmother (unclear what happened to his mother). She's eager to be a perfect mother to her kids -- who include Becka (Martha MacIsaac), and twins Xander (Benjamin Stockham) and Marigold (Amara Miller). The kids are masters of manipulation, so that's not exactly easy, either.
MY SAY With the holiday spirit firmly in hold, let's start this off with a positive spin: NBC's new sitcom about the White House is superior to the canceled sitcom about the Animal House ("Animal Practice"). What that says is there's nothing particularly offensive about "1600 Penn" -- and there is no monkey (hallelujah).
Beyond that, there's nothing especially funny, or smart, or clever, either. This would work almost perfectly on Nickelodeon -- and Gad, in fact, may remind some younger viewers of another Josh (Josh Peck, the other half of beloved "Drake & Josh"). But on NBC . . . Thursdays . . . at 9:30?
Hey, it's their network. They can do what they want with it. Gad is a physical comic with real vitality and talent -- and after that hugely successful run on Broadway, he has a real fan base, too. Elfman and Pullman are solid and versatile pros. Maybe you can see where I'm going here, but, if not: This is a very good cast laboring through terribly weak material. They deserve better, and longtime NBC Thursday comedy viewers absolutely expect better.
BOTTOM LINE Good cast, soggy show.