NBC's White House sitcom "1600 Penn" comes off as a fairly formulaic yet occasionally bright return to an old premise: Wouldn't it be funny if the first family was just as madcap and dysfunctional as the rest of television's manufactured broods?
In real life, the White House's occupants are beloved by many and loathed by some, but, by necessity, they're a tad stiff. When President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, let Barbara Walters or some other observer in, the banter is light and predictably cool — they've got the "dorky husband/adept wife" Huxtable shtick down pat.
The Obama daughters, meanwhile, have entered adolescence under the unwritten but fully understood Chelsea Accord, which keeps the news media at a safe distance; what little we know about them comes from their parents, who emphasize discipline, homework, balanced diets and rationed WiFi. As a result of this careful image-tending, we've seen Barack Obama have more spontaneous and even comedic fun with other people's children — such as that recent photo of him goofing around with a young visitor dressed as Spider-Man.
"1600 Penn," which premieres Thursday night (viewers got a sneak peek at the pilot episode in December), isn't all that bad as a vicarious and over-the-top riff on what it's not like to live in the White House. Such parodies include everything from "That's My Bush!" to "Dave" to a hundred "Saturday Night Live" sketches. This all goes back at least as far as Vaughn Meader's "First Family," a Kennedy-esque comedy routine and best-selling record album that came to a swift halt after the 1963 assassination.
Here, there's no danger of a partisan storyline or any resemblance to the current administration — even if one of the writer/producers, Jon Lovett, is a former Obama speechwriter.