Sunday, January 27, 2013

1600 Penn

1600 Penn
Episode 4: Meet the Parent
By: Carlos Uribe

1600 Penn is a show about a normal family that happens to reside in the White House.

Spoilers Ahoy!

One frustrating aspect about writing a review about an episode is when you don't really have anything new to say about it. This is kind of true about Meet the Parent. It wasn't a bad episode or a good one but rather it was so mediocre that there's very little to be said about it. Take the main plot of the episode. The President is able to use the resources given to him by the Constitution to defend this nation to track the father of Becca's baby. The plot instantly becomes about whether or not to accept this man into the family. The points that are in favor of him is that he's the father of the child but Becca doesn't really know him very well. She's not really willing to give him a chance until she changes her mind. It's questionable what exactly changed it as it seems to happen for the sake of it. President Dale's conflict is how to treat this man. His first reaction to threaten him with “robots from the sky” dissolves into also giving him a chance. Why? This is a family comedy and they need happy endings? I'm not really sure why as the conflict isn't resolved very well. This is because the characters themselves aren't developed very well beyond two-dimensional personality traits. Becca is the perfect character who made a mistake. President Dale is the President whose also a father. That's basically all there is to their characters which means that their objections to getting to know the father come from a narrative requirement to have conflict rather than a genuine human reaction. This makes it difficult to develop a resolution to the conflict because it's existence for the characters is never really defined well. This is a valid criticism but I have already noted how undeveloped the characters are.

That the two would struggle with how to accept the father of the baby into the relationship is only compounded because of how predictable the plot is. Of course they're going to give him a chance at the end. Of course Skip is going to get along with him. Of course the father turns out be similar to Skip but with less intelligence. The writers sure went with a lazy pick for the father of the baby by making his primary personality trait that he's pretty dumb. There are moments where an actual personality seem to come across but they are rare and in between. It also calls into question whether this show really needed a character that was very similar to Skip. Skip himself is a character that is used sparingly. The show might not have learned that yet but it should have at least realized that it only needed one version of the character. Now it's going to have to accomplish a more difficult task: develop the father to Becca's baby enough so that he is a different person than Skip. Making him slightly more dumb is not not enough to set him apart. This is crucial because having two nearly identical characters is simply lazy and it especially doesn't work with a character like Skip. I can barely tolerate Skip and now there's two of them? To add to that thought, I'm not a fan of Skip per se but rather the situations he inadvertently creates and how everybody deals with that. For comedy gold, this requires everybody to basically be someone who isn't Skip. This is to say that the boyfriend character is not only predictable and unoriginal but he simply doesn't belong in the show. There's room for only one Skip on any show that has to have one.

The sub-plot is a lot more promising on what the show can handle. Becca's pregnancy can easily fit into any other show but White House protocol is more unique. As leaders of the free world, the characters have to follow a certain protocol when dealing with visitors. These protocols can be rigid, cold, and tedious. They can be very annoying. They start to bother Emily this episode when the Chief Protocol Officer keeps correcting her. Emily is able to get away with breaking protocol before she realizes it's in place for a reason. This gets resolved in a pretty predictable manner but at least it's exploring a situation that not many shows have approached. It certainly was more interesting to watch the china sub-plot than Skip trying to set up a date between Becca and the dad. If it could have grounded the conflict within Emily's character then it would have been a lot stronger. She had a problem with protocol for no reason other than it was annoying but if there had been something unique to her character that it bothered then it could have potentially led to a more interesting result.

If 1600 Penn is currently suffering it's because of many reasons. One of them is that it keeps putting characters into situations without defining who the people are. This creates a frustrating reviewing experience. I'll admit that I might have laughed at what was happening but in the end it all felt so meaningless because the characters remained so two-dimensional. Funny situations is one thing but funny situations that serve the character is what helps separate mediocre television from truly great shows.

Other Notes:

This is the second episode in a row where the two little kids are absent-but I believe they will be the focus of the next episode.

DB is a stupid name for the character and I refuse to call him that. So which name should I use when referring to him as calling him the father of Becca's baby is a bit on the long side. Baby Daddy? Stupid Skip? Old Navy loser?

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