Alpha House is a very funny show, certainly the best of this fall’s new TV comedies.
But you won’t find it on any broadcast or cable network. This half-hour comedy, about four Republican senators who share a Capitol Hill brownstone as their home-away-from-home-district, is the first original production from Amazon Studios. It begins streaming at Amazon on Friday, Nov. 15: The first three episodes will be available, free, to all customers at the online retail giant. Thereafter, Amazon Prime subscribers will have access to a new episode every Friday.
The distribution method would make its debut noteworthy regardless of quality. The great news is that Alpha House is miles better than any of the comparatively dull sitcoms trotted out by the networks this season. It’s worth seeking out.
There’s major star power: Doonesbury author Garry Trudeau created the show, and John Goodman plays a garrulous, long-tenured senator from North Carolina named Gil John Biggs. Biggs shares the townhouse of the title with two colleagues, Pennsylvanian Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson) and Nevada’s Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy).
A fourth senatorial housemate (Bill Murray, in a hilarious, expletive-filled flash of a cameo) is carted off to jail in the opening moments of the pilot, which gives an immediate indication of the regard in which the show holds the politicians at its center. So does the trio’s choice to fill that vacant spot in the house - Andy Guzman, a slick, womanizing junior senator from Florida, played by Mark Consuelos (better known as Kelly Ripa’s husband).
Overall, the show’s humor is good-natured and far less biting toward its Republican protagonists than might be expected from the liberal Trudeau. There’s a funny filibuster sequence in the pilot: One senator fills his time by singing opera. As Biggs, a senator suddenly facing a contested reelection for the first time in decades, Goodman is especially appealing. His housemates are all experiencing various levels of political crises, from looming ethics violations (Cynthia Nixon plays the Democratic head of the ethics committee) to impending divorce to embarrassing viral videos. Their collective solution? A photo-op-filled goodwill mission to visit the troops in Afghanistan, of course. Things don’t go smoothly.
The latest in a spate of shows set in the D.C. political muck – joining the likes of House of Cards, Scandal, Homeland and Veep – Alpha House gets off to a polished, promising start. Forget that ambitious new Amazon distribution model, though: As a comedy, considering the current state of national politics, its biggest challenge may be outdoing the real thing.
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