They say it's the world's toughest job. Those who hold it must be calm but decisive, intelligent but emotive. They must know when to hold firm to their ideals but still compromise when the need arises. They must deal with a huge array of complicated situations and explosive personalities with the knowledge that any misstep they make could result in World War III.
I've heard that being President of the United States can be pretty hard, too. But being a father? Now that's what separates the men from the politicians.
President Standrich Dale Gilchrist understands the importance of both the nuclear football and the nuclear family. He knows that handling a peeved Austrian diplomat can be way easier than guiding Skip, his man-child of a son. The fiscal cliff? Yeah, that's pretty serious—but not nearly as worrisome as the fact that his eldest daughter, Becca, is pregnant after a one-night stand.
NBC's 1600 Penn focuses on Gilchrist and his nifty-but-nettlesome brood—beautiful second wife (and former campaign manager) Emily, erratic Skip, smart-but-preggers Becca, and his two younger kids, Marigold and Xander. You might call 1600 Penn a first family sitcom, often more silly than salacious. We're certainly not talking about the level of content you'd see from 2 Broke Girls or How I Met Your Mother. It can actually feel quite old-fashioned, sometimes even tacking on a bit of a moral at the end of the episode.
Other TV critics, though, haven't been that kind to this so-called midseason "replacement" program. A quick Google search turns up reviews with such titles as "Fail to the Chief" (tv.com) and "Can You Impeach the Entire First Family?" (grantland.com). Indeed, 1600 Penn does wind up being less a triumph of political comedy and more a diplomatic accident.
And since politics can make for strange bedfellows, it also has its share of those. Becca's pregnancy and the plot points surrounding her can be problematic. It's gratifying to see how she plans to keep the baby and how the rest of her family rallies around her. And it's refreshing that they call the baby a baby, even very early on in the pregnancy. But said baby is the result of Becca hooking up for a casual fling with a dumb-as-a-pomegranate jock she met in a bar. And that's quite another thing entirely.
Skip can be another loose cannon—perhaps quite literally. In the pilot episode he gets pulled out of college after shooting fireworks into a rival frat house, setting the place on fire. Profanity and various interpersonal deceptions can be bugaboos, too, with White House decorum not always winning the day.
"Meet the Parent"
The White House tracks the father of Becca's child, D.B., to an Old Navy store where he works. When he hears that Becca's pregnant, he drops to one knee. "Will you marry me … Becca?" he asks. "It's Becca, right?" Becca turns him down and suggests she doesn't want to have anything to do with him. But when D.B. gives Becca a discount card for Old Navy ("20% off for friends and family," he says. "I figure we're at least one of those"), she seems to soften.
When Emily breaks some historical china (a set specifically requested by Austrian guests), Emily uses it as a teaching moment for Becca, saying that that's what we have to do with our own lives sometimes: We might not be able to change our broken pasts, but we can try to move on—pick up the pieces. How those pieces get picked up may well be more sitcom than solid family guidance, though. Indeed, Emily has nothing negative to say to her etiquette advisor for sabotaging a chair that breaks when the Austrian ambassador sits in it. (Making it easier for Emily to apologize for the broken dishes.)
Becca obsesses over D.B.'s athletic build. Emily tells Becca that he's "hot." Becca uses a variety of sports-oriented euphemisms to walk D.B. through their child-bearing sexual encounter. Characters say "d‑‑n" twice and "b‑‑tard" once. In flashback, we see Becca and D.B. drinking shots in a bar.