Episode 7: To the Ranch
By: Carlos Uribe
1600 Penn is a show about a normal family that happens to reside in the White House.
The episode begins with the reveal that President Dale has to nominate a new Supreme Court justice. He's caught between three choices. The only real established information about them is that they're all minorities and at least two of them are women. The writers drop some hints about what one of the potential nominees did but nothing that actually meant anything. The reason that Supreme Court nominations are important is because it's a lifetime appointment that has become politicized. The White House administration will try to find a judge that will best represent their political views. There's nothing worse for a President than passing agenda through a highly partisan Congress only to have the Supreme Court rule against it. If the option to replace a justice comes up then the replacement might shift the favor your way. At the same time, the President has to take into account that the nomination has to pass. The justice has to be found acceptable by the Senate in order to pass. This can mean having to go through a Senate with enough members of the opposition party or mavericks in your own party that might be able to defeat your nomination. The justice has to strike a balance in their ideology in that they have just enough on your side to be valuable and to be acceptable to the other side. The political game for the Supreme Court nomination can be very complex and it's partly what makes picking a justice so difficult. This is only after they have been completely vetted by the administration. President Dale does indeed have a difficult choice in the Supreme Court nomination but the show doesn't try to really explore why that is. Dale has three choices but they're all meaningless because the show isn't interested in covering actual political strategy. This removes being able to relay the stress of the choice. Of course, if we knew about about the Supreme Court justice then we would know where Dale stands on the issues. We might even be able to guess his political party. 1600 Penn should definably explore what it means to be President but it needs to start getting political in order for it truly work. It's failure to do so presents a really simplified version of the government that should only be targeted to elementary students rather than the people in the 18-48 demo.
The good news is that the show doesn't try to create that much conflict from the Supreme Court choice since it really wouldn't be able to while remaining neutral. It's really just an excuse for all the characters to go their ranch in Nevada so that President Dale can distract his mind so he can pick a choice. The episode proceeds to split the characters into groups to mixed result. The most successful is actually Dale and Skip. This is the only plot that actually made me laugh simply because Skip's random mother nature tangents were great. The bad part is that there was too much concentration on Skip's feelings towards what's-her-face. The fact that I can't even recall her name despite just having watched the episode and taken notes is a sign that I could care less if he gets with her or not. The plot has a second problem in that it stops being funny right after Skip tackles President Dale. This is because it moves on to Skip showing Dale the movies he watches when he's depressed. The two get into a fight when Skip just won't shut up but they resolve it at the end. So why isn't this funny? The show actually gives the perfect explanation: Dale is like the cinnamon of people. A little of him goes a long way. After tackling Dale, he was used too much. At least the writers seem to realize that relying on Skip too much can backfire on them but only if they can actually put this knowledge into action will it be meaningful. The plot basically concludes with them looking at a sunset and Dale hasn't made his decision about the Supreme Court justice. I'm not sure if the writers just didn't care or they ran out of time but it certainly feels odd that it was left unresolved. Then again it's not like the resolution would have meant anything to the audience.
The big pairing that doesn't work at all is Emily and the two youngest kids. The idea of taking these cell phone-obsessed children camping would be a good one if they actually had personalities. They don't. Xander might be an intellectual with radical viewpoints but that's not enough to really create comedy when you pull him out of his comfort zone. Marigold might be a lesbian but that seems to be her only defining personality quirk. If this was a show that was interested in being more than just a simple and broad comedy then the writers could have used the situation to develop their characters. There's nothing like forcing characters outside of their comfort zone to be able to define who they are. The show doesn't do this. It doesn't even use the established sibling rivalry between them to generate conflict along the camping trip. There's like one point where Xander sides with his step-mom when he thinks there's going to be a Donner party situation but that's it. The two are always fighting so why did they get along so well? The “comedy”, if you could call this lazy writing that, is Emily basically trying to force them to enjoy nature without actually enjoying it herself. That is until they all see a stunning sunset. They all enjoy nature and I guess learn a lesson? I like all the actors involved in this show but they could easily use better material.
The final pairing is Becca and Marshall. Marshall's big problem is his allergies act up when he's at the ranch. He claims he has to take a lot of medicine while he's there to fight the allergies. Is this a huge set-up where his drug problems lead to comical situations? No. They basically play no role in the episode and the only punchline is he has allergies. What a waste of a potential comical scene. Becca's problem is that she wants to use the ranch to get some space from D.B. only to find that he keeps contacting her. He eventually comes to the ranch but only after Becca and Marshall kissed. Oh, yeah-the two locked lips this episode because of their sexual chemistry. This is the first episode where the audience could actually feel this chemistry even if it was only minor and in one scene. Guess what? The kiss happened after that scene so it felt very much wrong and off. The two are going to remain just friends because Becca has to give the father of her baby a chance. I guess it's nice that 1600 Penn is trying to have a “will-they-won't-they” kind of relationship with Marshall but it feels very much forced. I don't think anybody in the audience is going to ship them or at the very least care if they get together. Which I guess makes this whole plot feel very pointless.
To the Ranch is an average piece of television. It's broad enough so that elementary-age school students can understand and sophisticated enough so only they'll find it funny. This might seem like a good thing but this is a show that is dealing with adult topics. This leaves the show basically with no real audience. It's not a surprise that the show is struggling in the ratings. Heck, I would stop covering this show if I didn't believe it's going to get pulled any day now. Right? Right? Right!?