‘Alpha House’ Has the Pieces in Place, But Falls Flat

/ Nov 19, 2013


We ranked it:





Comedy pilots are incredibly hard to pull off, more so than any other genre on television. Don’t believe me? Just think about it: How often is it that it’s the comedy pilot that convinces you to watch a television show, and not some other factor like who the show is from, who stars in it, or — in this age of catch-up television — someone who told you to stick with it because “it gets really good”?

This is because comedy pilots have more work cut out for them than other genres. Not only do they have to establish who the main characters are and the relationships they have with each other, but they also have to set the tone for the show, tell a complete story (because most pilots get made without knowing if a full season is in the future), and most importantly, make you laugh.

It’s a tall order. So when we first reviewed Amazon Studios’ political comedy series, “Alpha House,” and gave the show an underwhelming but passing grade, we did it with the knowledge that the show had a chance to be good, it just needed more than one episode to prove itself.

And now that it has, and unfortunately, three episodes into an 11-episode first season, “Alpha House” still isn’t particularly funny.

The political comedy, headlined by John Goodman and featuring cameos and guest star turns from the likes of Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Cynthia Nixon, and Wanda Sykes, does a very good job of establishing who each of the characters are. The show follows four Republican senators who live in the same house and get into all sorts of debaucherous and less-than-ethically-respectable situations. Goodman’s Gil John Biggs is coasting on the fact that he used to be a famous college coach in his home state, and you can tell his new profession is meant more to boost his ego than satisfy a passion to serve; Clark Johnson’s Robert Bettencourt is a veteran politician, and in the most cynical sense, has become incredibly selfish because of it; Matt Malloy’s Louis Laffer is the exact opposite of the man he’s running against for re-election, a manly man; and Mark Consuelos’ Andy Guzman is a young, sexually active and skilled politician, who is the embodiment of a star in the making.

These are horrible people who do horrible things, and we’re supposed to find laughter in their horribleness. HBO’s “Veep” does this very well. It’s a biting, satirical riot.

“Alpha House” wants to be the same type of show, but show creator Garry Trudeu’s writing isn’t as sharp as he thinks it is. A lot of the jokes fall flat — I recognize that they are jokes and that is a spot where I should be laughing, but nothing’s really making me laugh.

As for the acting, John Goodman is the star of the show, but more often than not he just looks like he’s messing around. Malloy as Louis Laffer might be the only bright spot three episodes in — he plays the stereotypical loser in any group of friends. But he’s the only one who is able to put together a few lines here and there, a few moments of slapstick comedy here and there, that actually make you laugh. And what happens to him at the end of the third episode actually made me want to purchase Amazon Prime in order to watch the fourth episode.

Unfortunately, that feeling went away in 10 seconds.

Which might be the best thing to say about “Alpha House” — you won’t hate it, but you’ll easily forget it.

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