Lunchtable TV Talk: Alpha House – “One nightmare at a time, girl”

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I have not seen Haley Joel Osment since The Sixth Sense or possibly some tabloid “reporting” on his drunk driving or something similar. Oh the nightmares of being a child star (see “cast of Diff’rent Strokes” for the ultimate case study in child-stars gone awry). Suddenly, though, I started watching Alpha House during a brief Amazon Prime freebie month, and there he was. And noticed that he’s also in the IFC productions, The Spoils of Babylon and The Spoils Before Dying. Tons of great, funny and interesting people in The Spoils, so Osment is not exactly key. But I noticed him most because of his long absence from the public eye – and then his sudden reappearance in a bunch of stuff – referred to as an unusual “second act”. Osment has made no difference to Alpha House, but I had to note the presence.

I plowed through the first season of Alpha House – it did not start out particularly well. I may have had higher expectations because the show was created by Garry Trudeau. Alpha House focuses on a handful of Republican politicians sharing a house in DC together – it’s meant to be a comedy but until the middle of the season, it does not pick up speed. But eventually there are laughs and insights here and there – most of the characters, even though they align closely with stereotypical caricatures of politicians (egomaniacal sex addicts; uber-conservative closet cases; lazy lifelong politicians who have lost their way, etc.), come out as relatively likeable, human people.

John Goodman is more compelling in every single other role he’s played but then he only seems to come to life near the end of the first season – and this may be by design. His character is a complacent senator who rediscovers his values only once his seat is truly challenged. Mark Consuelos… well, does anyone think of him as anything more than Kelly Ripa’s husband and secondarily – maybe – as an actor on whatever soap opera he met Kelly on when they were both in the show? Actually he is better than that, but because he is possibly the biggest stereotype in the bunch it is easy to pigeonhole him as the Hispanic politician relying on his “roots” even though he does not understand a word of Spanish and as the player/sex addict who may destroy his career with these common pitfalls. Clark Johnson plays another of the politicians sharing the house, and he is pleasant and funny – but there is not much to say about him. (I have not seen much of Johnson since his days in Homicide: Life on the Street. Happy to see him, though – love him!)

Only Matt Malloy is immediately and consistently watchable as a very homophobic Republican senator who wins an “anti-sodomy” award for opposing gay marriage when it is suggested at every turn that he is deeply closeted himself. While the “closeted political operative story” was somewhat more highly charged with Cyrus Beene in Scandal during the flashback scenes depicting his coming out, Malloy’s character trajectory is much slower, certainly less exigent. Maybe that storyline is not gripping – almost nothing about the show is – but it grew on me. Malloy has always been one of those everywhere-everyman actors who plays small roles all over the place although I mostly think of him as the milquetoast “Howard” from the brutal film In the Company of Men. Seeing Malloy in a leading but ensemble role is refreshing – and even greater – Amy Sedaris as his rigidly Mormon, wholesome wife. Too much!

By episode five, the only thing that really piqued my interest was the appearance of musician Charles Bradley (as himself). But by episode seven – the prayer brunch episode, which includes the very funny Wanda Sykes (she’s in several episodes) – the show hits its stride, and I finished season two the very next day. (Who turns up, in fact, in the final episode but Josh Pais, the everywhere-everyman actor I wrote about just the other day?)

With no word yet on season three, I am surprised to find myself – after a very slow beginning – hoping it will return.

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