Review: ALPHA HOUSE, Created by Garry Trudeau for Amazon Studios


There are a number of reasons why you might be curious about this show. The main reason to see it is because it’s funny. Politics and humor go hand in hand but they don’t always add up to something really funny. Sometimes, it is sent to us by the Gods. What else explains Tina Fey as Sarah Palin? Sometimes, it is sent to us by Garry Trudeau. Yes, that Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist of “Doonesbury” fame. His humor is recognized as rather wry and dry. But for this series, he’s eased up a bit on the drollness. He allows his characters to breathe and, in doing so, has established a good extended rhythm for the small screen.

Trudeau is a smart fella. He’s always been more of a writer than an artist. He has a solid sense for satire which can get the life squeezed out of it by the mini-episodic format of traditional newspaper comic strips. Of course, Trudeau makes the most of it. His current comic strip arc is set in Afghanistan and he has Hamid Karzai, the opportunistic President of Afghanistan, lusting over the prospect of Tom Hanks playing him in a movie. It’s a joke small enough to fit in a four panel comic strip. But what about when Trudeau has ample room to spread out and really get his political freak on?

We got a good example of what Trudeau can do with his mockumentary, “Tanner ’88.” With Robert Altman directing, this was any political junkie’s fantasy come true back in the day. The humor hasn’t aged well. It was already dating back to the ’60s when it first came out. It’s a shaggy dog sort of humor where people mumble and are supposed to be whipsmart but sound really dumb. Just imagine “Saturday Night Live,” from its early years to the present day. It began with a slow offbeat vibe and now it’s evolved to a fast snarky vibe. Something like that has informed Trudeau’s later work and made its way into this new project. It’s still Trudeau but zippier. To paraphrase the old Nixon slogan, he’s tanned, he’s rested, and he’s ready.

It’s also a good thing to have John Goodman as your star attraction. Alpha House is an ensemble show with four male leads, who all happen to be quite good, but, yeah, we’re talking John Goodman. This guy is a bear of a man and a bear of an actor–which means he’s darn good. I’d sit and watch John Goodman peel grapes and snack on them. The man has that kind of charisma. In this show, Goodman is one of four U.S. senators who share a house together while Congress is in session. I’m not sure how common that is but the idea is amusing. I know of at least one politician who had housemates and that was Rudy Giuliani. Just the thought of that is sort of funny. Now, imagine trying to live with John Goodman as your housemate.

There are set pieces to the show that seem to mimic the comic strip along with having the luxury to spread out. For instance, there’s the case of Sen. Louis Laffer (played by Matt Malloy) who is dogged by the perception, and fact, that he is a wimp. But then he literally stumbles upon getting a fairly credible war injury on a publicity seeking tour of Afghanistan. In the process of his ongoing recovery, you get to know his daughter, a devote Mormon who falls in love with Laffer’s chief of staff byway of the senator’s Skype sessions. More in tune with the possibilities of television are the quiet moments expressed by Sen. Robert Bettencourt (played by Clark Johnson). He marvels over his image in political ads while awaiting his own possible indictment.

What sticks with me is a scene typical of what you can expect when Sen. Gil John Biggs (played by John Goodman) is the focus. Sen. Andy Guzman (played by Mark Consuelos) is just getting used to being the new housemate when he hears loud snores coming from the shower. He frantically unveils the shower curtain to reveal Biggs slumped over. Instantly, Biggs wakes up and chastises Guzman for interfering with his morning ritual of dozing in the shower. Now, that’s well above and beyond the pace of a comic strip!

Alpha House is on Amazon on Fridays. You can view it here.

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