Episode 5: Frosting/Nixon
By: Carlos Uribe
1600 Penn is a show about a normal family that happens to reside in the White House.
One of the most annoying aspects about a new comedy is that it relies too much on it's premise. It makes sense that a comedy about the first family would create situations that arise from that status. The problem is that these situations are predictable, lame, or both. It might be because the characters have yet to be properly defined and developed but it's also because the ideas simply aren't working in execution. I'm sure that the idea of having a social service agent act as a therapist might have been a good one on paper but it's not funny. This is an episode that relies a little bit too much on it's premise in an effort to try and create comedic situations but it fails to work because the jokes all fall flat. 1600 Penn continues to have a lot of promise but there's many problems that hold it down that are detrimental to the show's humor. Weak characters, plot ideas that go nowhere, lazy jokes, and it's premise are all holding it down. These are problems many comedies might face in the early days but they can be so frustrating when a show has all of them. The way the ratings are going, 1600 Penn is not going to survive but it's difficult to grieve the passing of a show that fails to be inspired by it's own premise. I believe I've talked enough about how weak the characters are but I think it's time to explore how the premise is holding it down.
The idea that Skip is easily swayed by political opinions actually makes sense for the character. In this episode, he gets caught between his father's policies and the protesters that oppose them. It might make sense for the character but the show failed to really do anything with the idea. The jokes are largely what you would expect and the plot is as predictable as possible. The writers have no fresh perspective to offer an idea that has been used in situational comedies in the past. It's this kind of uninspired and lazy writing that is starting to make 1600 Penn unwatchable. There are a couple of things the show could have done with this plot. The first is to use it to reveal more about the President's character. When all is said and done, we didn't learn a single thing about him. When he claims to have gotten through to Skip, we don't know what that means to him. The second thing it could have done is offer a unique view on the partisan divide between the political spectrum. It tried to do this but it never really works as the protesters aren't developed and the issue they're fighting over is guaranteed to not offend the mass majority of Americans. If it wants to comment on the political differences between people and how the President can unite groups against his policies, then it could have done it much more effectively by actually picking a contentious issue or at least trying to show what this issue meant to the President. There was no emotional connection to the issue so therefore it felt empty and the President felt like he didn't really have any passion.
One of the most annoying premises is to take student elections as seriously as real ones. There is a usual predictable joke where polling information comes in. It's just something I've seen before and I've gotten tired of it. 1600 Penn tackling this plot could provide the fresh air to make it interesting again. To it's credit, it does steer away from having demographic polling but it doesn't really offer anything fresh. It tries to use the plot to develop the relationship between Emily and Xander but there's a problem with this. Their weak characterization aside, the show doesn't really commit to their relationship being the core of the story. The election plot isn't really even resolved by Emily, Xander or both but by Marigold. This is meant to show that she does stick up for her brother even if he annoys her but it doesn't work. This plot could have worked better if it had picked it's core: the Xander-Emily relationship or the bond Marigold has with her brother. I would have picked the second as maybe the show could have then avoided the obvious pitfalls in taking the student elections way more seriously than in real life.
The final plot is with Becca. She realizes that all of her friends are having successful lives but she's not doing anything as she's pregnant. She starts to use a secret service agent as a therapist. This idea could have been good but there's a couple problems. The first is that the show thinks that the idea by itself is the punchline. That is like setting up a joke only to stop telling it because you think that the set-up is funny by itself. The second problem is that it doesn't dedicate itself to it. As soon as the viewers realize the set-up of the show, it changes gears by having Becca's insecurities kicking in on why the agent doesn't talk back to her. This isn't the case as the agent is an even bigger mess than Becca and the plot is slowly closed out without any real resolution. Which is ultimately the biggest failure of the plot: it doesn't really mean anything. Becca doesn't really grow as a human being nor do we find out anything new about her.
Frosting/Nixon is an episode that proves how non-committal this show is or how lazy it is when it does follow through with an idea. I'm not saying the show should abandon it's premise but it should be using it to develop the characters. It could have used Skip's plot to develop the President more along with establishing his belief system. It could have used the election plot to develop the bond between Xander and Marigold or Xander and Emily. It could have stuck with the Becca plot to reveal something we didn't already know. Frosting/Nixon is an episode that proves that 1600 Penn is all situation but with little regard to character without realizing that character is what makes the situations work comically and emotionally.
The show seems to have settled on Xander's personality trait: a crazy radical.