by EMILY BARY ’14
Co-Editor in Chief
They work in the Senate. They live in the house. The tagline just about says it all regarding “Alpha House,” Amazon’s first foray into original programming. Though the show tries to be funny, it both goes too far by pushing bizarrely immature plotlines and doesn’t go far enough in terms of delivering the zingy one-liners that keep people coming back for more. Ultimately, viewers are left rolling their eyes at half-hearted attempts to be funny.
Amazon released the first three episodes of “Alpha House” on Nov. 15, following a contest last spring in which it gave users the chance to vote on which of 14 pilots should be made into an original series. Just watching the pilot of “Alpha House” made me wonder how bad the other 13 were.
The show hopes to capitalize on viewers’ recent appetites for shows that go behind the scenes in Washington, from “Scandal” to “Veep.” Loosely based off the true story of four Democratic members of Congress who share a place in D.C., “Alpha House” follows four Republican senators and housemates as they navigate reelection, romance and roommates.
It’s about as corny as it sounds. John Goodman leads the cast as Senator Gil John Biggs, a veteran senator from North Carolina whose long honeymoon period gets jolted when a popular Duke University coach challenges him in his bid for reelection. Biggs is joined by Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson), whose plotlines I can’t even remember a few days after watching the show.
Then there’s Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy), a possibly-closeted senator whose attempts to appear masculine predictably backfire when a “Colbert Report” appearance goes awry and results in embarrassing footage of Laffer rolling around on the ground with Colbert in a mock wrestling match.
Mark Consuelos plays the newest housemate, Andy Guzman, a Marco Rubio-esque character who is already eyeing a run for the presidency and whose lack of seniority doesn’t stop him from stealing Biggs’ bedroom or enlisting his new girlfriend to redecorate.
As a cynical take on Washington and the people in power, the show has the potential to be funny. In one early scene, a character nonchalantly opens up a dish to reveal dozens of flag pins, and he grabs one before heading to work the way ordinary people might pop a breath mint upon leaving the house.
In the third episode, the senators mock and complain about an optional, upcoming trip to Afghanistan, but all end up going for their own transparent, selfish reasons. Biggs goes to one-up his new challenger by securing photo ops that his opponent can’t get and Laffer goes to make himself look tough in the wake of the Colbert snafu. Guzman, who makes it clear that he shouldn’t have to go because he isn’t even running for reelection in the upcoming election cycle, ultimately caves when his girlfriend reminds him that if Obama withdraws the troops, Guzman won’t have a chance to get photographed with them ahead of his own premature presidential run. (Bettencourt’s reasoning I once again cannot remember.)
Of course, the trip takes a dark turn when there is an explosion where the senators are visiting, but any viewers still sticking around after the first three episodes will have to tune in next week to see the aftermath of that.
“Alpha House” would be fine as a jaded look at the powers that be in Washington if only it were just a little funnier, but situational irony and cynical caricatures alone don’t make for laughs. There were hardly any funny lines in the first three episodes and way too many scenes featuring the characters cursing indiscriminately.
Unless the show can shape up, procrastinators would find better use for their time by binge-watching other political series heading into exam period. I suggest “House of Cards” for the truly jaded and “Veep” for those who want something funnier.
And in the meantime, Amazon might want to stick to more promising projects, like delivering groceries to lazy West Coast residents or delivering just about everything else elsewhere, seven days a week.
The first three episodes of “Alpha House” are available online for Amazon Prime subscribers ($79 a year gets you free two-day shipping plus access to a library of streaming content). Amazon will release new episodes weekly to fill out the 11-episode season.