Political life is more like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm than The West Wing. The deviously calculating minds of Aaron Sorkin political thrillers belie that sheer absurdity of elected life. Amazon’s first foray into original programming, Alpha House, reveals the silly everyday happenings of Senators as they struggle with their DC apartment housemates, obligatory partisan stunts, and social media gaffes (yes, many congressmen have shared housing).
In the opening pilot, the camera pans to a sleepy Senator Gil John Biggs (played by John Goodman) as he prepares to take his unlucky 4 A.M. speaking slot during a Republican 24-hour filibuster. His housemate, “Senator Bettencourt” offers the barely-awake Biggs his speech, which is loaded with references to their biggest funders.
Bettencourt: “Well, why don’t you reuse mine, the private contractors will love ya.”
Biggs: “Hey, thanks!”
The show’s Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Garry Trudeau, took a sabbatical from penning the Doonesbury comic when Amazon offered him the opportunity. The online retail giant joins Netflix in a full-frontal assault on broadcasters’ domination of sitcom creation. This year, Netflix won their first Emmy for its own politics original, House of Cards.
Now, with an all-star cast, including an opening cameo from comedy legend Bill Murray, Amazon wants its own video streaming service to fill the space being vacated by declining broadcasters, which are hemorrhaging viewers to the Internet.
Trudeau does a delightful job of putting the full DC circus on display. Goodman’s character, who plays an archetypal sports-celebrity-turned-congressman, is forced to attend a photo-op tour of Afghanistan, after a more popular football coach decides to run against him in an upcoming election.
Goodman’s housemate, an obviously closeted Republican gay critic, decides to join his colleagues on the trip to repair his effeminate public image.
The truth is that elected life is consumed by endless formalities and media stunts. Those in the middle-rung of the congressional ladder fill their days with non-stop fundraisers, talk-show hits, and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. At best, they can hope to author a barely-salient bill.
And, for the celebrities who decided to leap into politics after their entertainment career peaked, the wonky committee hearings in between grand public statements can seem like high school homework.
Alpha House does an admirable job of displaying DC silliness, although the endless black, gay, and conservative jokes may turn off an audience that doesn’t get the insider humor.
Alpha House is a very clever comedy that resoundingly trumps the current crop of run-of-mill broadcast sitcoms. And, it proves that the new generation of video streaming giants can play in the big leagues.