NBC's '1600 Penn' trades politics for humane humor

Bill Pullman plays the president in the new family comedy "1600 Penn," debuting tonight.

Photo by NBC, 2012 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Bill Pullman plays the president in the new family comedy "1600 Penn," debuting tonight.

"1600 Penn" is one of NBC's better moves since the new regime started more than a year ago.

This silly and sweet sitcom hasn't proven yet that it's Emmy-worthy material, but it is as sturdy as most comedies on ABC ("The Middle") or CBS ("Mike & Molly").

Since some of the minds behind the now-slightly tired "Modern Family" are at work here, "1600 Penn" has a strong foundation to work from.

The first episode (airing 8:30 p.m. Thursday) is a repeat of the opener that broadcast last month; The second one (9:30 p.m. Thursday, WBIR, Channel 10) follows up on dangling plots from the pilot.

Word that eldest first daughter Becca (Martha MacIsaac) is pregnant gets leaked to the media at the same time her father, President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman), finds out.

The result is tender and funny but hardly realistic.

In the real world, a first daughter who is unmarried and pregnant would ignite all sorts of political and moral debates.

"1600 Penn" pushes such a hot-button issue aside and focuses on how the family reacts to the news, as if it doesn't have wider implications.

Not that "1600 Penn" needs to dive too much into heavy political issues.

The comedy is fine the way its is, but the series uses Washington, D.C., as a backdrop so some real-world insight might anchor "1600 Penn" a bit more and give it more humanity.

After all, there's plenty to praise "1600 Penn" about.

The mechanics work very well.

Pullman is excellent as the out-of-touch Dale despite the fact he appears to be a firm world leader.

To top it off, Jenna Elfman, as his second wife, Emily, has matured as a comedic actress and brings "1600 Penn" ashore.

Score: 4 stars (out of five)

Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445 or morrowt@knoxville.com.

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