Washington’s not a very funny place these days. In fact, Washington is rarely funny at all, except on TV, but with Ebola, the crisis in the Middle East and a near total absence of energy, optimism, leadership, vision and determination in what are called the corridors of power, Washington may be the least funny place in the world right now.
Which, like everything else, has an impact on mindless TV shows, especially the ones about Washington.
Watching and often laughing at four of the second season episodes of Amazon Studios’ “Alpha House,” now available for streaming, I couldn’t quite shake a parallel sense of unease.
At first, I chalked it up to two things. First, that as good as it often is, “Alpha House” is still an also-ran to HBO’s “Veep.”
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Second, some of the issues that creator Garry Trudeau skewers in the new season feel a bit out of date. Kind of like looking at a Doonesbury cartoon from the early ‘70s about the Nixon White House, something many newspaper readers have had to do while Trudeau takes a partial hiatus from legacy media to dabble in television.
Early in the new season, for example, Florida Sen. Andy Guzman (Mark Consuelos) is showboating as usual, trying to build himself up as presidential material, when someone cracks, “Who died and made you frontrunner?”
“Christie,” Guzman replies.
OK, well that line may have been funny at the height of the New Jersey governor’s bridgegate mess, but while he may not have entirely regained his GOP front-runner status, he’s at least made himself part of the conversation again.
There’s also an extended story arc about the romance between senatorial aides Katherine Sims (Natalie Gold) and Julie Carrell (Brooke Bloom) that supposedly scandalizes closeted Nevada Sen. Louis Laffer (Matt Molloy), who tells Julie that she is like “my own daughter, and no one wants to see their own daughter burn in hell for eternity.”
If that line doesn’t feel completely out of date now, it will in a week or two. And a full-on lip-lock between the lovers in the middle of a news conference is supposed to shock people? If it’s a political news conference, and it is, it probably just woke them up at best.
As fans of the first season know, Laffer and Guzman make up half of a quartet of senatorial housemates in Washington. The other members are Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson) and North Carolina Sen. Gil John Biggs (John Goodman).
Although topicality trips up some of the jokes, others are spot-on, such as the use of drones by the megalomaniacal billionaire Watt brothers (Todd Susman and Lee Wilkof) to meet secretly with Biggs to fund his primary campaign. The Watts are obviously modeled on the real-life conservative king-making Koch brothers.
As if Gil John doesn’t have enough on his plate with the revelation that someone he thought of as a protege is going to run against him, his dopey, starstruck daughter “Cee” Biggs (Lila Newman) has signed up to be on a reality show about the “Real Daughters of DC,” with real-life DC daughter Abby Huntsman as one of her cast mates.
There are even more real life political and media figures making cameo appearances this year, including Andy Cohen, John McCain, Penn Jillette, Ed Rendell, Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, David Axelrod, Grover Nordquist and Jane Pauley, who would qualify as a major get even if she weren’t married to the show’s creator.
With a few exceptions, such as same-sex marriage and the status of Chris Christie, “Alpha House” benefits from the fact that almost nothing gets done in Washington, which means Trudeau doesn’t have to worry for the most part that something he wrote last summer will be out of date in October.