Episode 2: The Skiplantic Ocean
By: Carlos Uribe
1600 Penn is a show about a normal family that happens to reside in the White House.
There was a primary flaw that really popped out during this episode. It wasn't really noticeable in the pilot as I was getting to know Skip and the world the show was trying to set up but it became very clear this week. That flaw is that the show is that there seems to be some confusion by the actors, the writers, and the directors on how to properly do a single-camera series. The primary difference most people notice between a single-camera and multi-camera comedy is the absence of a laugh track. Laugh tracks only appear in multi-camera comedies because of the more subtle differences. A single-camera comedy is shot more like a modern-day television drama or like a movie. A multi-camera comedy is shot more like a stage play, often with a live audience. This different style requires different techniques of writing and acting. Multi-camera comedies are more reliant on the traditional punchline method and slapstick comedy to deliver the jokes while single-camera comedies have to depend more on character and plot to make people laugh. Single-camera shows still have punchlines but they tend to be less obvious and more naturally integrated within the actual show. The problem that is plaguing 1600 Penn is that it's supposed to be a single-camera comedy but it's being done like a multi-camera comedy. If you just add a laugh track, it would feel right at home with other multi-camera comedies.
There are two solutions to this problem. The first is to add a laugh track and make it more like a stage. This wouldn't be such a bad thing because it seems like the actors would be more comfortable with that. Josh Gad is a funny actor but he made his fame with the Broadway play The Book of Mormon. Allowing him to play in front of a live audience might make him feel more at home with the show. Jenna Elfman might be a sit-com veteran but she's used to starring in multi-camera roles. She's currently the best asset that this show has but even she feels a little bit like she's getting used to this new style. Bill Pullman merely looks like he's trying to get into his character and he might be the only one who might struggle with a shift to stage. The writing itself would really fit well with a live audience or a laugh track. 1600 Penn is already being made as a multi-camera comedy so the shift wouldn't be so dramatic. The major problem with this is that NBC is primarily a single-camera network. This might hurt the show's chances of coming back or properly fitting anywhere within the schedule. Changes likes also tend to rarely work. This is a problem that can only be taken as long as the producers and actors involved don't get used to a single-camera project because otherwise it might be too late. This is therefore a solution that the series probably won't be able to take even if it seems to be the more natural one to take.
The second solution is to have the producers and actors adjust their performances and the writing to work within a single-camera comedy. This is going to be the solution the show has to take because they're locked into it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing and it has the potential to be a hilarious single-camera comedy. It's just going to have to take time to allow the show to grow into itself. The major problem with this is if the viewers are going to have patience to watch the people involved figure this thing out. The Skiplantic Ocean seems to hint that viewers will ditch this and the ratings will sink. Why? Growing pains are fine with a show as long as it remains consistently funny and entertaining. The Skiplantic Ocean largely has lame punchlines, predictable jokes, and it's still struggling with issues of characters and their relationships. Even if the show was being shot to the proper style, it would still have massive problems with it's writing.
There are a few things the show is going to need to learn as well. Skip is funny because his good intentions constantly lead to him making the situation worse. The problem is that he can also get very annoying. The show is going to need to learn when to properly use him so that he can cause a storm of chaos without causing the audience to change the channel. Finding that balance is going to be crucial in order for the show to work. The second is that it needs to go to places that aren't completely obvious. Of course the President is going to take his family troubles to his generals and of course they provide him with the advice needed to figure out what to do. It would have been funnier if the generals actually gave out terrible advice as fathers because they're too rigid into the establishment or something. Granted, the only time that the show felt like it was an actual single-camera comedy was when the two general daddies were interacting with each other.
1600 Penn is a show that could one day be very funny-but it first has to survive and it's doubtful this will come back for a second season. It simply doesn't have the good jokes it needs that allows viewers to sit through the show as the producers figure it out. The Skiplantic Ocean only shows that this series has enough problems to fill an ocean.