Josh Gad may be doomed to play a slacker for the rest of his life.
He did it so well in "The Book of Mormon" he got a Tony nomination. Now, he extends the guise to "1600 Penn," a new NBC comedy that suggests the president's deadbeat son is just a stumble away from "Animal House."
Gad plays Skip Gilchrist, a goofball who never considers what his actions might mean to dad (Bill Pullman). He bulldozes ahead, creates national and international incidents and moves on.
Cute, initially, the bull-in-a-china-shop premise wears a little thin until you realize there are others in the family capable of embarrassing dad, too. Daughter Becca had fun with someone in the Navy (the store, not the military) and is living to regret it (think: Bristol Palin). The First Lady (Jenna Elfman) has to contend with gossip that comes from being the president's "trophy" wife. And the twins? They take a "me first" appraoch to just about everything.
It's a crazy household -- one that's watched with a close eye by Press Secretary Marshall Malloy (a very good Andre Holland) who constantly has to pull the family out of the fire.
The premise is solid but the first episode doesn't represent what "1600 Penn" ultimately becomes. When Becca gets her crisis, the focus spreads and the laughs begin.
Gad, quite frankly, is more than one show should have to handle. (He's an executive producer, too.) He was tempered on Broadway by Andrew Rannells (who's now on "The New Normal") but now there's no one to provide that yang. Pullman is basically clueless throughout much of the three episodes we saw (is he trying to channel a recent presidential candidate?) and Elfman doesn't know where she fits in.
But Martha MacIsaac (as Becca) and Holland are exactly what this show needs. When they take center stage, it soars.
Interestingly, "1600 Penn" has one of the biggest sets we've seen on a sitcom. We don't just get the Oval Office. We see the bowels of the White House, the kitchen, the press room, the private quarters. We even get a lot of its exterior and a pool we never knew existed.
There's a "Get Smart" tone to international affairs (Pullman needs to man up with his family) and that "Animal House" vibe whenever Gad slips in. But Monday's sneak preview of the 2013 series shouldn't scare you off.
"1600 Penn" is a lot like the first days of an administration -- shaky but determined. Once it gets a foothold (and the actors understand their characters' perameters) it could have a longer tenure than most elected officials.
And Gad? Jimmy Carter's brother Billy proved a little can go a long way.
"1600 Penn" will air at 8:30 p.m. Monday after "The Voice" on NBC.