‘Alpha House’ has always gone out of its way to tell us that politicians are people too. Season 2 sadly takes a few steps back in achieving that.
We like to think of Washington DC as its own ecosystem, not hindered by the trials and tribulations of the real world. Not to say that Washington DC is exactly perfect, it’s just that they have their own bullshit to deal with. Television, for the most part, tries to reinforce that notion. Instead of car payments or remembering to call the repair man, it’s choosing the right campaign issues or how to deal with a reporter that knows too much. It’s that hyper-reality of what we perceive Washington DC to be that makes those shows (ie “Veep”, “House of Cards”) interesting. “Alpha House” has always tried their hardest to break that perception, showing that politicians are just like you and me. They too have to deal with the realities of worldly bullshit. In Season 1 they mostly succeeded in doing this. Sadly in Season 2, they take a few steps back in achieving that goal.
“Alpha House” – an Amazon Studios joint – is from the mind of Garry Trudeau, the creator of Doonesbury. The show centers around four Republican senators living in relatively tight corridors as they navigate through the pitfalls of DC politics as well as their own lives. Similar to Doonesbury, “Alpha House” has a very dry wit about it. Unlike “Veep”, “Alpha House” doesn’t barrage its viewers with comedic haymakers any chance it gets, it tends to be more subtle in its delivery. Trudeau makes this work by lampooning their policies, not the people themselves.
The first season of “Alpha House” did an excellent job of this. All four main characters – North Carolina Sen. Gil John Biggs (John Goodman), Florida Sen. Andy Guzman (Mark Consuelos), Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson), and Nevada Sen. Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy) – were fleshed out characters making them more than just political punchlines, going as far as feeling empathy for them when they came up short. This season however it doesn’t work as well.
While characters like Sen. Biggs and Sen. Bettencourt remain fleshed out, breaking out of their stereotypical tropes – moderate Republican and black Republican respectively – the characters of Sen. Guzman and especially Sen. Laffer take a few steps back. Both Sen Guzman and Sen. Laffer become what every fan of the show always dreaded. Caricatures of the policies they support. This is especially true with Sen. Laffer, who was a fully realized character last season, but now becomes the quintessential “closeted conservative politician who runs on family values” by the end of Season 2.
While shows like “Veep” create characters to be vessels for political punchlines – which are used for great comedic effect – it was important that “Alpha House” not follow the same suit. “Alpha House” was always different in that it specifically wanted the audience to laugh at the absurdity of DC politics, not at the people within it. This isn’t to say there aren’t fantastic moments in Season 2 – the Sen Biggs disarming a Tea Party senator immediately comes to mind – it’s that it takes a few steps back in its execution. Something you never want to see a television show doing as it moves forward.
At the end of Season 1, “Alpha House” showed serious potential in challenging the current king of political satire, “Veep.” In the end, problems with Season 2 just make you question if the show can ever reach that upper echelon. That isn’t to say Season 2 of “Alpha House” isn’t any good, it’s still leagues above most political shows out there currently, but you never want to see a TV show take a step back in quality after showing so much promise.
Reviewer’s Take: While Season 2 of “Alpha House” is disappointing compared to “Veep” or even the show’s previous season, it’s still a solid political satire from one of the greatest satirist of his generation. Just make sure to keep your expectations in check.
[Photo Credit: Amazon.com, Variety]