Amazon’s plans to extend its tentacles into the world of original on-demand content began in earnest this March, when it released fourteen pilots onto its various streaming platforms and asked its subscribers to decide which they thought deserved a full season order. Alpha House was one of the most favourably received pilots, and given the pedigree of those involved, it’s not difficult to understand why.
Alpha House is the creation of Garry Trudeau, who collaborated with Robert Altman on the fantastic political mockumentary mini-series, Tanner ’88, which can be said to have created the template for all satirical fare that followed it, from Bob Roberts (1992) to The Thick of It. Trudeau shared a dorm at Yale with George W. Bush, which was a handy primer for the absurdity that prevails on the beltway!
Alpha House follows four Republican senators who live in the same Washington D.C. house – due to sky-high rents in D.C., this is a common occurrence. The occupants of the Alpha House are: Gil John Biggs (John Goodman), Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy), Andy Guzman (Mark Consuelos) and Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson). The pilot had real potential, but can the series live up to that?
Episode Two picks up where the pilot left off, with Laffer – an uptight, timid Mormon – appearing on The Colbert Report. Laffer is in a congressional race with a macho ‘Tea Party’ candidate who has questioned his masculinity. Laffer agrees to engage in a spirited bout of wrestling with Colbert, and the footage of his grappling antics quickly goes viral, making him a laughing stock across the nation.
Elsewhere, Guzman – a slick, womanising Cuban-American with his eye on the White House – moves into the house with his glamorous new girlfriend, Adriana (Yara Martinez); Biggs – a gruff southerner who is coasting on his reputation as a top sports coach – is trying to avoid the frequent phone calls from his forceful wife, Maddie (Julie White), and a trip to Afghanistan; and Bettencourt – a wily senatorial veteran – finds that his ties to a private security contractor could put him in front of a congressional ethics committee.
Episode two struggles to balance plot development with generating laughs; there is simply too much background to establish and the show whips by in a haze of exposition. What laughs there are fall flat and rely on the usual tropes of right-wing politics, which have been lampooned with more precision by Jon Stewart et al. For Alpha House to succeed, it needs to go more in-depth, drawing on the hypocrisies, compromises and conflicts of interest that run rife in D.C. The characters require more weight if they are to be anything more than mere ciphers for topical quips, but at present they feel like flimsy archetypes.