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Monday, January 20, 2014

Amazon "In The" (ALPHA) HOUSE

Article first published as Amazon "In The" (ALPHA) HOUSE on TheTVKing.

Amazon's first original series, Alpha House, brought its freshman run to a close this past week with "In the Saddle." For a company initially known as an online book and media store, this is a triumphant moment, an accomplishment of original programming. After viewing all eleven episodes, it seems to me that Alpha House would have comfortably fit on Showtime or the like, proving Amazon can produce quality content.

Created by Doonesbury comic strip scribe Garry Trudeau, the show follows four Republican senators who share a house when they're in Washington D.C. These guys battle Tea Party upstarts, scandals, and re-election campaigns as they try to hold onto their positions and who they are.

Although Doonesbury can be seen to have a liberal bend, Alpha House does a good job at humanizing the Republican side of the aisle. Sure, some of the characters aren't that likeable, but that's true for both political parties that are displayed, and each of those featured in the show are seldom defined by only one thing, the good mixed with the bad. Perhaps the person may be selfish or a phoney, but they may also be someone who has values, even if they've forgotten them, or someone who can be counted on as a friend.

Gil John Biggs (John Goodman) represents everything a GOP leader should be in "In the House" and the episodes leading up to it. He laments the loss of bi-partisan cooperation, and to make up for it, instigates an enjoyable lunch with an opponent, Carly Armiston (Cynthia Nixon). Then he plans for a funeral for a colleague he can't stand, doing his best to stage a touching tribute, which turns out to be not be very easy.

If only our actual representatives were more like Gil John. He has his faults, but at the end of the day, he does want to help people, and feels best when making a difference. He is willing to play nicely with others and compromise. He hangs onto lost morality, such as supporting communities and infrastructure. And he stands up to those who would besmirch the party he's proud to be a part of. If there were a Republican presidential candidate like Gil John, the GOP would quickly gain back some of the lost youth vote.

Of course, actual lawmakers from both parties made cameos at the funeral scene, so that's showing that they can work together for a TV show, if nothing else.

But reality is much more ridiculous, and that still bleeds through to Alpha House. For instance, Senator Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson) is attending a debate on the road to re-election. All of his primary challengers are insane, with stereotypes poking fun at Herman Cain and others. Bettencourt just sits back and lets them talk, knowing his best chance at winning is to give the public the chance to see just how crazy the others are.

The sad thing is, this doesn't always work. We've got real-life examples of those with extreme beliefs stealing away positions after rough primaries. If Bettencourt's strategy were full-proof, we'd be in good shape, but it's not. I think he's unlikely to lose because he's one of the four main characters, but that's the only reason for his job security.

There's plenty of hypocrisy evident on the political stage today, and Alpha House tackles this with the part of Senator Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy). Obviously gay, but sticking to his religious beliefs, Laffer has a doting wife, Louise (Amy Sedaris), and a daughter, Lola (Willa Fitzgerald), who is a bit sex-obsessed after growing up in the nearly sex-less household. However, even as Laffer rallies against gay rights, it's hard to fully hate him because one feels bad for the situation he's in, not able to be true to himself.

The least likeable person on the show is Senator Andy Guzman (Mark Consuelos), who, funnily enough, is extremely true to himself. Meaning, he's really only in the profession to increase his own standing, willing to say whatever it will take to keep the spotlight and the love of the people. I'd like to see Guzman get his comeuppance, and it's likely he will in at least some small way should a season two be ordered.

Alpha House is populated with many more character - senators, wives, and their staffs. All of the screentime is split between a multitude of people, making for a very full story and a larger-scope view of the setting. The cast includes wonderful turns by Julie White, Wanda Sykes, Haley Joel Osment (yes, that Haley Joel Osment), Yara Martinez, Alicia Sable, Kobi Libii, Brooke Bloom, Ben Rameaka, and others. It's a very complete show that could easily fill many years of story if given the chance.

Most importantly, it's funny. If the funeral got a little too depressing for you, and it shouldn't after Armiston and Guzman's eulogies, "In the House" brings Bill Murray back from another bit at the end, his senator sitting behind bars. The final episode opens with a death, but one that will make you laugh. There's a cute scene of Gil John rolling on the floor with a dog, and an amusing one where he hides his laughter to make it seem like crying. This show is made by someone who loves politics, wants to fix it, knows how to poke fun at it, and just plain understands people. It's very well made, and I greatly look forward to further installments.

All eleven episodes of Alpha House's freshman run are currently available on Amazon.

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