'Alpha House' review: Amazon series is bitter but funny

John Goodman, second from left, stars in "Alpha

John Goodman, second from left, stars in "Alpha House" directed by Adam Bernstein. (Credit: Amazon Studios)

Amazon.com launched 14 streaming pilots this past weekend (free for members) with the goal of creating a new series -- or 14 of them -- depending on viewer response, which so far is good. (Viewing pilots is free if you've registered; you'd pay to watch any series.) The retail giant said eight of the 10 most-streamed TV episodes last weekend were their own. The Amazon offerings include six children's shows, and eight comedy pilots, including a remake of "Zombieland" and a show from Onion ("Onion News Empire"). Today, we take a look at "Alpha House," one we particularly like.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Created by "Doonesbury's" Garry Trudeau, this is a satire about a group of congressmen who are bunking together in Washington. They are Gil John Biggs (John Goodman), Andy Guzman (Mark Consuelos), Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson) and Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy). In the pilot, a senator, Vernon Smits (Bill Murray), is awakened by Gil, who reminds him that he was supposed to turn himself into the Department of Justice on this day. Vernon is not happy.

MY SAY Of all the pilots, this one seems guaranteed to get a green light. Really: Who has pockets deep enough to get Bill Murray to actually appear in a TV pilot, or even John Goodman? (Although it's doubtful you'll be seeing much of Murray in the future. As clever as his open is, it all feels like a favor or a debt now paid; in any event, he's on the show for less than a minute.) And, yes, Trudeau has done TV, but the efforts were not entirely memorable or long-lasting. His mockumentary series, "Tanner '88," about a guy running for president, did get a good reaction when it aired on HBO many years ago, but the 2004 TV series spinoff ("Tanner on Tanner") landed quietly in Nowheresville.


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Meanwhile, Adam Bernstein directed the pilot, and, as one of the biggest comedy directors in television ("Scrubs," "30 Rock"), you assume the pilot will get off on the right foot -- and it does.

"Alpha House" is profane, bitter, hard-edge and often funny. The opening Murray bit is flawless, while Goodman is Goodman throughout -- exactly how you'd want him to be. Two nice surprises here. Malloy, a TV journeyman who has possibly appeared in every TV show ever made beginning with -- guess! -- "Tanner '88" is one. And Consuelos, who -- darn it -- is a good actor, even if he is best known as Kelly Ripa's househusband.

Can Trudeau turn out a weekly series about the despicable behavior of people behaving despicably in Washington? No reason why not -- there's plenty of material. The downside here: Not a single memorable female character.

BOTTOM LINE Raw, funny, open, but no women in sight.

GRADE B+

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