'Alpha House' react: Four men and a Senate
As Gretchen Wieners would say, Washington, D.C., is so fetch right now. We’ve got Scandal‘s dramatic affair-filled take on the city, House of Cards‘ serious business (and affair-filled) approach, and Veep‘s comedic point of view on the happenings within the nation’s capital. So what story could possibly be left to tell about the inner-workings of the non-state? How about the one where four Republican senators live together in what appears to be a “grown-up frat house” of sorts?
Picture a college frat house (on Capitol Hill), and then swap the Natty Lights for whiskey, and the beer pong for … rifle practice? It happened, I swear.
That’s the basic premise of Alpha House, Amazon’s first original series. Written by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau and inspired by a New York Times article, Alpha House tells the story of four grown senators picked to live in a house and have their lives taped. Okay, so the taping thing doesn’t happen — it’s a fictional show — but you get the idea. The four senators easily break down into their designated roles: John Goodman is Gil John Biggs, the Republican rep from North Carolina who isn’t one for doing, well, actual work. Now, if you want him to sleep through a meeting or reuse his roomie’s speech on national television? Well, sure, of course he’ll do that.
Next up, we have Clark Johnson as Robert Bettencourt, a Republican rep for Pennsylvania and the highest-ranking senator of the house. His purpose is essentially to keep Gil John in check while not getting dragged down in some sort of political scandal I didn’t fully grasp. Then there’s Matt Malloy’s Louis Laffer, the Republican rep from Nevada, who’s in the middle of an identity crisis he doesn’t understand, even though everyone else does — Laffer is clearly gay, which means he immediately becomes the butt of all “fashion” jokes. And finally, Mark Consuelos joins the house as the newest roommate, the Republican rep from Miami, and the recently single ladies man. (Read: He’s how they work sex into the show.)
The first three episodes of Alpha House, which are available to stream starting today, have a lot to offer. From great cameos by Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Cynthia Nixon, Wanda Sykes, Amy Sedaris, Julia White, and even a random Haley Joel Osment spotting to well-written jokes, the show seems to work. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t coming together. In the end, what kept it from being the next Veep came down to comedic timing and cast chemistry. At times, the comedy was trying too hard — there were too many awkward pauses and jokes that were clearly supposed to be funny — and I didn’t feel the chemistry between the roommates as much as I felt I should have considering that their dynamic was the base of the show. All in all, it just didn’t sit comfortably with me.
That being said, there were genuinely funny moments, and I laughed out loud a handful of times in the first three half-hour episodes. I think this show has potential, but I need the chemistry to smooth itself out, and I need the characters to evolve a bit. I know it’s a comedy, but I can’t watch a show full of caricatures whose every trait is designed to fit their blatant mold and make them a joke all on their own. Then again, Murray was probably the biggest caricature in the house — for the two seconds he spent on-screen before he went to jail — and all I wanted was to see him return. So it did work in some cases, which means it could grow on me.
There’s a little weirdness in the fact that it’s clearly a show about conservatives that is written by liberals, but by bringing in more characters like Cynthia Nixon — who played a very abrasive liberal — that too might be able to work itself out. All in all, if you cam look past a few failed jokes and some awkward silences, you’ll find enjoyment. I do think it’s a good show. I’m just not sure I’m ready to move in just yet.