‘Alpha House’ presents lighter touch
As the cameras whirred, John Goodman read the paper at the kitchen table. Fellow actor Matt Malloy nervously washed dishes at the counter. A third performer, Mark Consuelos, scrolled though the morning’s news on his tablet.
“Gil, did you know Sarah Palin attacked you ... on her channel last night?” Consuelos’ character — like everyone else in the room, a politician — asked Goodman.
The burly actor said no, then, a moment later, replied with deadpan timing: “Sarah Palin has a channel?”
The exchange was part of an upcoming scene in “Alpha House,” the low-key, inside-the-Beltway comedy created by Garry Trudeau for Amazon’s Hollywood operation. It captured the dry, insider humor the “Doonesbury” veteran aims for — and the reason the show is both a change-of-pace from its politically themed competitors and, perhaps, also not as well known as they are.
Less soapy than “House of Cards” and more understated than “Veep,” “Alpha House” seeks a different tone amid the bigger hooks and more extreme content of pay-cable programming. It centers on four legislators, all Republicans — Gil John Biggs (Goodman), Andy Guzman (Consuelos), Louis Laffer (Malloy) and Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson) — who live together, negotiating personal and professional challenges, sometimes with a creative sense of ethics.
“Alpha House” is inspired by a D.C. housing situation: Three lawmakers — Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.), Sen. Richard Durbin (D.-Ill.) and Rep. George Miller (R.-Calif.) — have bunked together in frat-like conditions for decades. When all 10 episodes of the show’s second season hit the site recently (unlike last year, Amazon is taking the all-at-once approach popularized by Netflix), “Alpha House” attempted to attract viewers with a mix of odd-couple sitcom tropes and the texture of Washington.
“What we set out to do is a show that’s not cynical or mean-spirited,” Trudeau said. “It’s a comedy with a lot of heart and people you hopefully want to stick with, like a lot of comedies. But we also want it to feel like it’s of our day and time in Washington.”
“Alpha House” is by now a veteran of Amazon Studios, having returned for a second season after the other canary in the coal mine, the Silicon Valley-set “Betas,” wasn’t renewed.
With the company taking the same path as Netflix and declining to release numbers, it’s difficult to judge the first season’s popularity. But the series hopes to pick up traction in part due to spillover interest from this season’s midterm elections. It also may experience a halo effect from “Transparent,” the buzzy Jeffrey Tambor series that in the past few months has built awareness for Amazon’s programming efforts.
Roy Price, who runs Amazon Studios, notes that the service has grown since “Alpha House” came online last year and also describes the show’s broad appeal. “It’s not about passing House Bill 3217,” he said. “They are sympathetic, differentiated characters you could fall for. They’re funny, but in a real way, not a super-jokey way.”
Amazon Instant Video
Rated: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)