The Obama daughters, meanwhile, have entered adolescence under the unwritten but fully understood Chelsea Accord, which keeps the news media at a safe distance; what little we know about them comes from their parents, who emphasize discipline, homework, balanced diets and rationed WiFi. As a result of this careful image-tending, we’ve seen Barack Obama have more spontaneous and even comedic fun with other people’s children — such as that recent photo of him goofing around with a young visitor dressed as Spider-Man.
“1600 Penn,” which premieres Thursday night (viewers got a sneak peek at the pilot episode in December), isn’t all that bad as a vicarious and over-the-top riff on what it’s not like to live in the White House. Such parodies include everything from “That’s My Bush!” to “Dave” to a hundred “Saturday Night Live” sketches. This all goes back at least as far as Vaughn Meader’s “First Family,” a Kennedy-esque comedy routine and best-selling record album that came to a swift halt after the 1963 assassination.
Here, there’s no danger of a partisan storyline or any resemblance to the current administration — even if one of the writer/producers, Jon Lovett, is a former Obama speechwriter.
Bill Pullman stars as President Dale Gilchrist, a taciturn commander-in-chief who is not far off in demeanor from the alien-fighting POTUS that Pullman played years ago in “Independence Day.” Jenna Elfman — terrific in her “Dharma & Greg” years and still sorely in need of worthier material — plays the president’s newish, younger wife, Emily.
She’s a first lady who must prove herself not only to her stepchildren but also to a skeptical nation. At a photo-op with schoolchildren, one child asks the first lady if she’s a trophy wife; later she has a showdown with the chief of protocol. “I’m tired of the passive-aggressive history lessons,” Emily snaps. “ ‘Jackie Kennedy did this’ and ‘Dolley Madison did that!’ Guess what — on Dolley’s watch, this place burned to the ground.”
Skip, the eldest of the four Gilchrist children, is a lovably hapless oaf played by Josh Gad. He is summoned home to the White House after one too many mishaps in his seventh lackluster year of college. The show immediately invests too much of its energy on Gad’s narrow performance, in which he delivers nearly all his laugh lines in a Jim Gaffigan-style stage whisper. Skip’s doofus demeanor is funny for about two scenes in the pilot, but it begins to shred apart by the third episode. This may be an irreparable situation, since Gad is also an executive producer.