Episode 10: The Short Happy Life of Reba Cadbury
Episode 11: Diner, Bath, Puzzle
By: Carlos Uribe
1600 Penn is a show about a normal family that happens to reside in the White House.
The Short Happy Life of Reba Cadbury:
I have to admit I actually laughed at parts of the episode. Don't get me wrong-there were still to many scenes where the show tried so hard but failed to elicit even a chuckle. There were a few times where the writing and the performances actually came together and created an episode that actually was entertaining. It still has a long way before 1600 Penn could at least be considered good or consistently funny but it is a step in the right direction. So what worked? It is a huge surprise to say that it was actually Marshall. His desire to create a fictional character in order to get away doesn't really make much sense but it was still funny. Whether it was messing up the messages he was giving to his assistants or having to admit that Reba was a figment of his imagination, Marshall simply elevated this episode from being uninspired mediocrity to uninspired fun. It wasn't just him as Skip's montage where he tried to force himself to write a paper was surprisingly funny but that's because it's easy to forget that Josh Gad is actually a pretty good comedic actor. He might get annoying but when he works he can be really funny. The Short Happy Life of Reba Cadbury is so far the best episode of 1600 Penn-and I wouldn't be surprised if this is where the show peaks. The next episode was a dud and it's doubtful that the two episodes next week will be like this one. So I guess 1600 Penn can at least be happy that it peaked with a moderately funny episode.
A large problem with 1600 Penn is that I don't think anyone involved actually believes in the project. The production values are decent, the actors do their best with what they're given, but the writers ultimately don't come up with anything that feels fresh or original. Take the plot with the fictional character. The idea is that Marshall is so busy that he needs to invent a person to get some alone time but this is actually a fairly typical sit-com plot. Becca using this fictional character to give her ideas a sense of credibility and having to keep up a ridiculous web of lies is something countless other shows have done. The only reason that the plot worked is because Marshall managed to sell it every minute he was on screen. The plot, the twists, and the jokes were basically seen a mile away. I personally think that a comedy following the first family could actually be funny but there needs to be more creativity involved in order for it to work. If you strip away the White House, you get a typical family comedy that has been done to death before. That might be what the creators were going for but it ultimately just feels like a wasted premise.
The other big plot of the episode has to do with Skip. He technically hasn't graduated despite having gone there for seven years. Why? He doesn't have the three credits he needs in order to graduate. This really beings up some logic holes that the show is trying to sell. For a comedy to be able to avoid logic it needs to be funny. He reveals that he took a class but he technically never finished it because he never wrote a paper. This would actually indicate that he failed the class rather than simply not getting credit but the plot wouldn't work if it followed real life. Emily decides to push him so that he finishes the paper. He does after a whole episode of procrastination and the series decides that's all he needs to graduate. I'm going to guess that the first family is going to be pulling a lot of strings so no professor of mine would accept a paper so late nor would it be that simple to get a diploma. Overall, the Skip montage scene was funny but it was distracting on how different the writers didn't seem to realize how college actually works.
Dinner, Bath, Puzzle:
The typical family sit-com plots continue in the following episode. Let's start with the completely failed to even lift off: the President and Emma trying to keep the romance in their relationship alive. They've been canceling date nights on each other and it's implied they haven't been amorous in a while. When the French leaders come to visit, they get advice from them. The advice is to have a nice homemade dinner, a hot bath, and then a puzzle. Dale and Emma decide to do this in order to keep the romantic sparks alive. They make dinner but they get interrupted by Skip when it's going somewhere. They try to have a hot bath but they're uncomfortable and Skip interrupts them once again. Dale tries to give up but Emma pushes on to the puzzle because she doesn't want to be a boring couple. She wants their relationship to still be exciting. This puzzle does lead to them getting together and the two are happy. Only the French didn't mean a literal puzzle but an activity that requires four people. This whole plot of trying to keep the sparks alive could be done by every single show and 1600 Penn doesn't really try to add a unique aspect to it. It simply delivers the same-old same-old without bringing the funny. Of course, it's hard to make it work when Emma and Dale's relationship hasn't been that developed nor are the stakes really established well.
Their date night does mean that they need a person to watch the kids. They decide that instead of going with their full-time staff that Skip will take care of them. Only Skip is a man-child rather than adult so he has problems getting them to do anything. When he tries to put his foot down, he simply gets rebuffed. His kidnapping adventures lead to Xander reading Cosmopolitan and having questions about sex. Questions that Skip really isn't ready to answer. Making matters more complicated is when Marigold asks him how to impress girls. All of a sudden Skip is finding out that his sister is a lesbian and that she wants advice from him. He doesn't get to answer Xander's questions but he is able to at least comfort his sister into thinking nothing is wrong with being a lesbian. This is possibly the closest this show has gotten to making a political statement. The plot was okay but it went in a predictable direction that never really became funny. It certainly doesn't help that Marigold and Xander aren't developed enough to truly provide this plot with the fresh energy it desperately needed. Alas, it didn't really work.
The final plot did work on some level. It really wasn't that funny but it actually did do some significant character work. A recurring element of 1600 Penn is the previous relationship between Marshall and Becca. The two really fit as they share a lot of the same interests. They like the same movies and like intellectual conversations. She's no longer dating Marshall but she is with D.B. He's her opposite as he's not very bright but he is sweet. The two go on their very own date night where he brings a movie to make her forget about her baby bump. Only the movie he brings is Prank Guys, a movie where guys prank each other. The plot develops when Marshall interrupts them and brings his own French movies. It's a nice contrasting way to show how similar the two relationships are: Becca fits well with Marshall but not D.B. This all develops until the point where D.B. Finds out that Marshall used to date Becca. This leads to actually good relationship drama as they all try to deal with this situation. In the end, Marshall leaves and Becca finds herself actually enjoying D.B,'s movies. Which is a sign that D.B. is starting to grow on her. The plot really works well because it presents something that is familiar but presented in an actually fresh way. There were a lot of moments where I actually found myself chuckling but that's primarily due to secret weapon D.B.
The Short Happy Life of Reba Cadbury was a funny and entertaining episode whereas Dinner, Bath, Puzzle was a weak episode when D.B. wasn't in the scene.
Next week we get the season (probably series ) finale. The show probably won't get renewed but it doesn't matter-it will be the final time I review this show.