John Goodman plays NC senator in Amazon's new political sitcom

San Francisco ChronicleNovember 18, 2013 

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    “Alpha House”

    The first three episodes are free on Amazon.com. Others available with Amazon Prime subscription, with a new episode every week.

Politics is no laughing matter these days, except for the way it’s portrayed on television.

Amazon jumped into the original programming waters last week with a new politics-based sitcom called “Alpha House,” whose title is meant to recall “Animal House,” but the show bears a closer resemblance to “Veep.”

It was created by Garry Trudeau of “Doonesbury” fame, and as of its debut, you can watch the first three episodes of “Alpha House” for free on regular old Amazon. If you then subscribe to Amazon Prime, you will have access to a new half-hour episode every week. There are 11 episodes of the first season, and a second original series, a Silicon Valley-themed sitcom “Betas,” is going to be released next week.

“Alpha House” is about three U.S. senators who share a Washington home to save on hotel bills and individual rents. The place isn’t exactly like a frat house, but it gets pretty close once a fourth roommate moves in: Florida Sen. Andy Guzman (Mark Consuelos), newly divorced and ready to co-mingle and co-sponsor til the cows come home. He brings along his current girlfriend, Adriana, and commandeers the master bedroom.

His roomies include North Carolina Sen. Gil John Biggs (John Goodman), a former football coach who isn’t worried about re-election at first because his opponent has already had two strokes since announcing. So Gil John spends his evenings soused to the gills, pun intended, and doing as little work as possible while his unseen wife strategizes his political career via long-distance phone.

Nevada Sen. Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy) owns the house and is facing a tough re-election battle with a real Western man’s man named Al Hickok. Louis, a former missionary, doesn’t exactly trail clouds of testosterone, so his handlers are out to butch him up some. Receiving an award from the Council for Normal Marriage, Louis doesn’t know when to shut up after he reaffirms his opposition to gay marriage and reels off several sex acts to which he’s also opposed, displaying an uncomfortable familiarity with the details of each. A decision to appear on “The Colbert Report” goes as you might expect: It’s an even funnier disaster.

Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson) is a skilled politician who seems able to capitalize on any situation he faces. Given the outsize personalities of his roommates, Bettencourt is the Lawrence “Pinto” Kroger of the senatorial frat house – the straight man.

In some cases, any resemblance to senators living or asleep – or, frankly, Democratic or Republican – is purely intentional, but falls just shy of direct satire, enabling viewers to make the tiny leap from, oh I don’t know, Louis to Harry Reid, just for the sake of discussion.

What separates it from “Veep” is that “Alpha House” almost seems possible, and it’s not just because of similarities between the characters and real pols. It’s about the mind-set, the dealing, arrogance and boorishness of our shaky legislative branch.

Although the four main characters are Republican, and some of the jokes specifically lampoon right-wing positions, you won’t come away from “Alpha House” thinking it’s just a GOP-bash. There’s room enough in this ship of fools for politicians, and skunks, of every stripe.

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