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Here, there’s a ‘Mormon’ guy in the White House

1600 Penn - SeasPilot

1600 Penn - Season Pilot

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Updated: February 7, 2013 6:21AM



A president faces many crises. On “1600 Penn,” most of them seem to emanate from his family.

The new NBC comedy (7:30 p.m. Thursdays on WMAQ-Channel 5) follows the Gilchrist clan: Commander in chief Dale (Bill Pullman) and his second wife, Emily (Jenna Elfman), who is stepmother to Dale’s children Skip (Josh Gad), Becca (Martha MacIsaac) and twins Xander (Benjamin Stockham) and Marigold (Amara Miller).

Father may know what’s best for the country, but he has his hands full with the big-mouthed, big-hearted Skip; Becca, the seemingly perfect daughter who has a major slip-up; and the bickering twins. The press secretary (Andre Holland) appears to be in a permanent state of damage control.

“We want to tell this wonderful story of a family like any other family but under the scrutiny of the 24-hour media news cycle,” says Gad, star of Broadway’s “The Book of Mormon” who also serves as a “Penn” executive producer.

“Can you imagine if Mary Todd Lincoln had to answer to CNN or Fox News? Can you imagine if Thomas Jefferson were asked about Sally Hemings by a reporter? These are the kinds of things you just never had to deal with until now. I thought that was a fascinating thing to explore.”

Skip, who has a propensity for causing trouble and starting fires, brings some “Animal House” to the White House. The seventh-year college student with the Secret Service code name Meatball creates many messes, personal and political, but usually finds a way to clean them up.

“Bull in a china shop and lovable golden retriever, that hybrid is really what I think the character has become,” Gad says.

He praises Pullman, who played a different kind of president in “Independence Day,” and Elfman, former star of “Dharme & Greg,” for helping to keep the comedy grounded.

“We never wanted to do a goofball comedy about the White House. We wanted to make a comedy that happened to take place in the White House. In order to achieve those goals, you really need a believable president and a believable first lady. I don’t think we could have found better options,” Gad says.

“American already embraced Bill in that [presidential] role, but that’s not the reason we cast him. We cast him because of his comedic chops. And Jenna truly is one of the master comedians of her generation.”

The real first family doesn’t provide much comedic fodder. “The Obama family is almost superhuman in that they really are a perfect family,” Gad says. “They don’t have many flaws, and that doesn’t lend itself to comedy.”

Gannett News Service



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