Alpha House: Season 1, Episode 4

The most effective episode of Alpha House so far, but the political comedy is still more smart than funny

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]pisode four advances the story that was set up by the previous episode’s cliff-hanger: the final shot saw Laffer being thrown through the air during a surprise attack on the army base in Afghanistan. As a result of his injuries, Laffer has been transformed overnight from a laughing stock – see the ‘wrestling incident’ in episode three – to ‘our newest American hero’. The rest of the delegation finds itself in the full glare of the world’s media, and their re-election chances suddenly look considerably brighter in Laffer’s reflected glory.

But Biggs creates a future problem for himself when his notorious hair-trigger temper rears its ugly head. Biggs arranges a basketball game between two soldiers and a member of his security detail. When the game doesn’t go well, Biggs flies into a rage and attacks one of the soldiers He is relieved that at least this time his bout of uncontrollable rage wasn’t recorded. Only we see that another soldier was filming the outburst on his phone.

We also learn that Melman, the Reno journalist sent to write a puff piece on Laffer’s visit, is far from the guileless hack he was believed to be, and has a gift for jotting down people’s conversations with amazing speed. Melman jots down the contents of a phone conversation Adrian is loudly conducting, and learns that her wealthy father has chartered a private jet to bring the senators home. We meet a sinister representative of Adriana’s father, who warns Guzman that the consequences will be dire if he treats Adriana badly.

The supporting characters are beginning to come slowly into focus: Haley Joel Osment is an inspired piece of casting as Melman, his features exude the sort of sincerity with an undercurrent of ruthlessness that is perfect for the character; and Wanda Sykes steals every scene she’s in with some wonderfully barbed lines. Amy Sedaris is introduced as Laffer’s homely wife, Louise; Laffer is slowly developing into the show’s stand-out character, and the potential of comic gold between Sedaris and Matt Malloy is great indeed.

A major gripe is the lack of a substantial story arc for Bettencourt. The central predicaments for the other main characters have now been established – Biggs is dreading the arrival of his wife, Laffer is dealing with his new celebrity status and Guzman’s relationship with Adriana has taken on a new dimension – but the ethics committee investigation seems to have been put on the backburner and Bettencourt doesn’t seem to have much going forward.

This is the most effective episode so far, though at the moment I would still describe the show as ‘smart’ rather than ‘funny’; its observations are acute, but it still lacks the big laughs that would distinguish it as a great comedy. Though the characters are developing a life of their own, their effectiveness still relies on a degree of familiarity with the real-life figures on which they are based. An understanding of US politics is not essential to appreciating Alpha House, but it certainly helps with some of the more obscure references.

Best Line: “Me? In ‘the shit’?” – An incredulous Laffer in the aftermath of his heroism

Best Scene: Biggs’ response to hearing the news that his wife is coming to D.C. to ‘prep’ him for his upcoming debate

Best Political Reference: “We had an election. Rebranding the criminally rich as job creators didn’t fly.” – Rosalyn in response to Bettencourt’s description of himself as a ‘job creator’

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