During my recuperation from gall bladder surgery, I needed something to binge watch — and I came upon the Amazon original Alpha House.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Less than a year ago, I ventured into the world of political news coverage mainly because I could not understand how a district represented by the Speaker of the House — a man who is two heartbeats away from the presidency — could be so impoverished. According to Census reports, as many as 20 percent of the children inside Ohio’s 8th Congressional District grow up in poverty.
Learning that fact alone sent me on a mission to better understand our political system — and I’ve learned enough to know it is not as simple as conservative vs. liberal and that wedge issues are simply a distraction. Heading down this path to political enlightenment, though, has also meant I have watched a lot more politically-themed shows, like Veep, for example.
Alpha House is somewhat along the same lines as Veep in that it is filmed as if it is a reality TV show, but the language in Alpha House is more sanitized. Also, Alpha House is about the Senate, not the vice-presidency.
The show centers around four Republican Senators who live in the same D.C. home. The star — Senator Gil John Biggs (played by John Goodman) is a former basketball coach who is jaded by politics, but is undergoing an awakening — mainly because he is being forced to actually campaign (in North Carolina) to retain his seat. In the past, he has always coasted to a win without campaigning.
Then there is the Senator from Nevada — a Mormon with a strong right-wing base — who seems to know more about women fashion than the average man. The senator, Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy), faces a tough re-election bid because a Tea Party candidate — who has legally killed three men — is challenging his manhood. Fortunately for Laffer, despite being outfitted in state-of-the-art body armor on a Congressional trip to Afghanistan, the senator still manages to sustains a serious leg injury when the camp is attacked. As a result of the incident, he becomes a war hero and celebrity — sealing his re-election win.
Despite their quarks, the other two senators are just as likeable as Biggs and Laffer. Pennsylvania Senator Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson), a light-skinned black man with a fondness for expensive suits, faces an investigation and possible indictment for illegally receiving gifts during the first season. While freshman Senator Andy Guzman (Mark Consuelos) of Florida is the most outgoing of the four is on a mission to bed as many women as possible en route to the presidency.
Plenty of Humor
Since the show is written by Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), the show has a left-slant. But the real quality of the show is the four main characters are endearing enough that even when they are screwing up, you want them to win. If you are a political junkie there are enough variants in the show to keep it interesting (like contractor names being read into the Congressional Record), but even a political novice will find the overall theme of the show (four guys shacked up together and the mayhem their living arrangement causes) enjoyable — even if the political humor is secondary.
The best episode is Season One: Ruby Shoals. In this episode, Biggs is forced to face the reality that what the current Republican Party is — is not what it was when he signed on. Things the Party opposes today — like infrastructure projects, for example — are the very things they supported when he first became a Senator. After coming to terms with what it means to be a worthy politician, Biggs sets off down the road to earn his re-election bid.
Several well-known actors play support roles in the series. Comedian Wanda Sykes brings some depth to the show as the Democrat neighbor of the four Senators and she eventually becomes the love interest of Bettencourt. Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) plays a Democrat who heads up the ethics committee, but Nixon’s most powerful moment in the series is when she speaks at the funeral of a despised Senator who died under suspicious circumstances. Unlike her peers, she calls it like it is and pulls no punches.
Rated: 4.5 out of 5. The only part of the show I did not like was the way the Koch Brothers are represented. In an effort to prove they are all-powerful and ever present, the writers place the pair on monitors attached to drones — which comes across as silly instead of funny. Since they are drones, the brothers are able to chase down anyone they want — prompting Biggs, in one episode, to shoot them out of the sky with his shotgun.