Out of all the emerging original series through streaming services, it seems that Amazon doesn’t quite get enough respect for their scant collection of shows. While Netflix gets all the attention, one show from Amazon Studios called “Alpha House” is quietly becoming noticed and could be deemed the best satire in any fiction form today. With satire not too plentiful on TV anyway (or probably allowable by the suits), having “Alpha House” on Amazon Instant Video was maybe the better option.
No doubt its creator, “Doonesbury” mastermind Garry Trudeau, had tried to pitch similar products to network TV before. When he collaborated with Robert Altman on “Tanner 88” 26 years ago, it had to take the guts of HBO to put it on the air. After all these years, you have to think that he tried to pitch “Alpha House” to at least a cable network before going to Amazon.
It’s surprising HBO or Showtime didn’t pick it up earlier, though perhaps they were aware that Netflix was doing “House of Cards” and feared being too derivative. It turns out “Alpha House” may have just as much insight into D.C. politics as “House of Cards” has showing the perpetual creepy side of politics. The former has more going for it because it’s based on the real situation of Democratic senators Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, and Rep. George Miller living together in one house.
If you weren’t aware of that to begin with, “Alpha House” could still stand on its own satiric merits for concocting such a concept. But there’s plenty of satiric irony in this show as much as there’s dramatic irony in “House of Cards.” The burning question is whether the best insights into D.C. politics come through satire or drama in similar shows. With satire still not understood by many, and Garry Trudeau continually not loved by all, “Alpha House” may have to find its way out of the giant “House of Cards” shadow.
Why is Political Satire Not Always Appreciated?
As much secret truth as there may be in “House of Cards”, some of it is hard to take when we see those in states of power in D.C. aren’t above committing murder to keep a status quo. Done with a straight face and hearing about leaders in D.C. watching the show regularly, the dramatic irony gives you a chill down the spine. We all know that’s the intention behind the show while also giving some insight into the daily activities of congressional leaders.
“Alpha House” goes in slightly different situations and shows a unity between the four senators living under one roof. We also see slightly more absurdist situations, despite some of those scenarios probably being too close to real if we ever followed real congressmen around. In the show’s first season, this involved situations in Afghanistan, including Senator Gil John Biggs (John Goodman) hitting a soldier with a chair as a bit of a nod to General Patton slapping a soldier in World War II. When the picture of the incident goes viral, you can easily see the parallel to Trudeau’s “Doonesbury.”
Yes, this is truly blistering satire, which may be the toughest form for everybody to love. We all know controversial “Doonesbury” has been in the comics for almost 45 years now. In some ways, the satire in “Alpha House” seems almost too easy because it’s being broadcast in a place where it won’t get the criticisms it would if on commercial TV. You could say all political satire on the Internet dilutes the impact to some degree because it doesn’t ruffle as many feathers. Because “House of Cards” is (mostly) a straight drama, it’s still raised a few eyebrows based on the show’s very daring plot directions.
In theory, “Alpha House” may be at the disadvantage just based on how satire is perceived and theoretically being a little too safe. As with most satires, it’s going to have those raving about it in small circles rather than being discussed in full on social media as much as it should. “House of Cards”, in the meantime, will probably continue to get more attention with the added advantage of Netflix now being available on some cable systems.
That doesn’t mean political satire still can’t make a quieter impact with a smaller audience. “Doonesbury” continues to make an impact as a comic strip, despite nobody making it water cooler discussion. “Alpha House” can continue to do the same, especially when satire has the potential to make real-life politicians look at themselves more carefully and prevent themselves from becoming a mockery in their careers.