As of today (October 24), the second season of Alpha House is available on Amazon Prime Instant Video for watching in big, several-episode gulps. Created by Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, Alpha House follows four senators who are roommates in Washington, DC. You might think that senators make enough money that they don’t have to quadruple up on housing, but you sometimes have to make some allowances for a show’s premise. You weren’t complaining when that nice monster family moved in at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, were you?
What’s it about?
Alpha House follows the adventures of four mismatched senators. You know John Goodman, right? He’s great. He plays Senator Gil John Biggs, the slob of the house. Gil John is the senator from North Carolina, who seems to have been elected mostly because he was once the basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. Next, there’s Senator Robert Bettencourt, played by Clark Johnson, who was Detective Meldrick Lewis on Homicide: Life on the Street and that implausibly saintly newspaper editor in the last season of The Wire. Senator Bettencourt is very nearly a normal person, although he spends a lot of time dealing with corruption charges. He sleeps in the same room as Gil John, because there’s no point in having roommates if you can’t work in some Odd Couple riffs.
The owner of the house that everyone’s sharing is Senator Louis Laffer, played by Matt Malloy. Senator Laffer is a staunch Mormon who everyone suspects of being gay—except they don’t come out and say so, because that’s not how you behave in the Senate. As the series begins, the fourth Senatorial roommate (a cameo by Bill Murray) is arrested for unspecified crimes and is replaced by Senator Andy Guzman, played by Mark Consuelos. Senator Guzman is in his first year at the U.S. Senate and spends most of his time having sex with every woman he can find.
What makes it interesting?
Political satire has traditionally focused on the executive branch, with The West Wing, Veep, and even That’s My Bush all staying firmly inside the White House. Moving the action over to the Senate lets different dynamics take over, although Alpha House isn’t as interested in politics as British shows like Yes, Minister and The Thick of It were.
It’s also not as good as The West Wing (although much better than That’s My Bush), but it’s fun in the second season when West Wing alum Janel Moloney shows up as the the kind of Tea Party senator who works while walking on a treadmill. While wearing heels. That might not actually be a kind of person in real life, actually, but it’s still nice to see her. It’s probably too much to ask for Bradley Whitford to show up as her bitter ex-husband, though.
Speaking of guest stars, Alpha House has plenty: Senator Molloy’s wife is played by Amy Sedaris. Haley Joel Osment has a recurring role as a television reporter. Wanda Sykes is a Democratic senator who has little time for the shenanigans of any of these goofs. People also appear as themselves, so you know this is a world where Stephen Colbert exists. Although it probably wasn’t that hard for Garry Trudeau to convince Jane Pauley to show up, since they’re married.
What makes it not so great?
It has a point of view that might not be to your taste. The four main characters are all Republicans, and most of the people they interact with are also Republicans. And because this is a comedy, pretty much every character is some combination of self-serving, venial, or corrupt. Sure, the occasional Democrat sneaks in there, but it’s always possible that maybe a show created by Garry Trudeau just won’t be up your alley. After doing Doonesbury for 44 years, he’s pretty much decided what team he’s on.
You basically just have to decide if you’re offended or entertained when someone says something like “Mr. President, when I was in school, they didn’t teach climate change. We didn’t need it then and we don’t need it now.” Although to be fair, the character who says that is considered as old and out-of-touch even by the main Republican characters.
What’s the math?
The West Wing times Animal House minus the food fights and toga parties.
So, how is it?
It’s a funny show. You can do a lot worse than to have John Goodman as a central character on a half-hour situation comedy.
How may hours should I watch at a time?
Five. You heard me! This show goes down very smoothly, and you can knock out a season in one marathon viewing without it feeling like a chore. Then watch the second season the next day.