‘Alpha House’? More Like ‘Omega House’

/ Apr 23, 2013


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Note #1: You’re judging me for that title, aren’t you?

Note #2: I love political fiction. I worship at the altar of Bartlett and McGarry (only the first term, though); Veep might be the best comedy on television; In the Loop is one of the funniest movies of the past five years; and I’ll even defend 1600 Penn for being smarter than most people think.

Amazon’s Alpha House has two positives: Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert in cameo appearances. So it’s fitting that both men bookend the pilot, which really doesn’t have much else going for it.

Alpha House centers on four Republican senators who live in the same house in Washington, D.C. At the outset, the four senators, played by John Goodman, Bill Murray, Clark Johnson and Matt Malloy, are living comfortably. Too comfortably. Then Murray’s character wakes up to find he’s under arrest. The remaining three then discover that their political careers may be in jeopardy. That, plus the introduction of a newbie senator played Mark Consuelos, who replaces Murray’s now-incarcerated housemate, sets the show up for what should be a full season of political satire and absurdity.

Except the only absurd thing about this show is the premise itself. It’s clearly going for a frat-house vibe, which is evident from the title. The first scene punctuates it as the camera glides over most of the main characters sleeping in a manner that’s not unlike the way I used to in college.

This sort of absurdity, that senators would actually live in such a fashion, can work — it just has to be funny enough for the concept to not even matter. And that’s where this show falters. Most of it is not even chuckle-worthy, as it goes for cheap laughs and superficial political points masquerading as satire. While I know next-to-nothing about creator Garry Trudeau’s other big credit, his political comic Doonesbury, I would imagine (or at least hope) there is more depth to how he understands politics and culture than what shows up on the screen during this pilot. But if the funniest joke in the show is a quick cut to one of the characters receiving an award at an event for “The Council for Normal Marriage,” then that’s a problem.

And that’s disappointing, considering the talent that is wasted here: Goodman feels like he’s mailing it in and the entire point of Murray’s and Colbert’s scenes are that Murray and Colbert are in those scenes.

To be fair, comedy shows are generally not known for having great pilots. So much time has to be spent on establishing characters and relationships that the jokes are harder to come by. They can often feel uneven, messy or lukewarm. And Trudeau does a solid job in establishing who these four men, who we would presumably spend several seasons with, are. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I want to spend several years with these men, let alone another 22 minutes.

There are not a lot of moments that suggest Alpha House has the potential to grow into something better. I would hope it does, considering some of the talent attached to the show and my affinity for political-based anything. Unfortunately, as of right now, Alpha House feels like it could be, if it really tried, a decent sketch.

Borrowing a feature from The AV Club, here are some stray observations:

  • The actress who plays John Goodman’s assistant: that is one of the worst accents I’ve ever heard. There is no way that’s her actual voice.

  • Among the four, Clark Johnson felt the most “senatorial,” in a believable sleaze-ball kind of way. You would think John Goodman would have won this prize by several miles.

  • I’m not even going to get into the gender politics of this pilot. I will just say: I imagine Trudeau won his Pulitzer Prize in the ‘70s (and after a quick Google Search: yep, 1975.)

  • I was originally going to comment on how some of these characters do not have the intellectual capacity to merit being voted to the US Senate, and then I remembered the actual world we live in. So, yeah.


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