'Alpha House' Latest Show To Be Based In Nation's Capital

The fourth episode of the web-only series Alpha House goes live on Amazon Prime on Friday. The political comedy stars John Goodman and was created and written by Garry Trudeau of "Doonesbury" fame. It's about four Republican senators living in a house and is loosely based on a real Capitol Hill living arrangement.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's hear, now, about the latest in a recent rush of shows set in the nation's capital. The political comedy "Alpha House" stars John Goodman, and was created and written by Garry Trudeau of "Doonesbury" fame.

The new sitcom is online at Amazon Prime, and it's about four Republican senators living in a house together, loosely based on a real Capitol Hill living arrangement. NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There's "Homeland" and "House of Cards," "Veep" and "Scandal" and now, "Alpha House." But this show is different. The others have fictional presidents and fictional congressional leaders. "Alpha House" is happening right now. Barack Obama is president. Mitch McConnell is the Senate minority leader. And executive producer Jonathan Alter, a longtime Hill journalist, says the four Republican senators at the center of the show are facing the same challenges real Republican senators face.

JONATHAN ALTER: We're set in the runup to the 2014, you know, midterm elections, where three of our four senators are facing Tea Party challenges.

KEITH: In this scene, Nevada Republican Lewis Laffer, played by Matt Malloy, gets a visit from his neighbor, a Democratic senator played by Wanda Sykes.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES, "ALPHA HOUSE")

MATT MALLOY: (As Sen. Lewis Laffer) Hey, Rosie.

WANDA SYKES: (As Sen. Rosalyn DuPeche) What the hell, Lewis, you're going to Afghanistan?

MALLOY: (As Sen. Lewis Laffer) I know, not me.

SYKES: (As Sen. Rosalyn DuPeche) Really not you, darling. Very McCain, but not you.

MALLOY: (As Sen. Lewis Laffer) I'm being primaried, Rose, by a buffalo rancher who's legally killed two people.

KEITH: The trip to Afghanistan is a major plot point in the first three episodes that have so far been released online. These sorts of trips are called CODELs, or congressional delegations. And on "Alpha House," they use that inside-the-Beltway language. The show is sprinkled with congressional inside jokes and historical allusions. In some ways, the series, which was written a year ago, was prescient.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES, "ALPHA HOUSE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Senate Republicans opposing the Clean Energy and Security Act have begun a rare talking filibuster...

KEITH: That episode was filmed before Rand Paul and Ted Cruz commandeered the Senate floor in separate talk-a-thons earlier this year.

GARRY TRUDEAU: We've been the beneficiary of things rolling in our direction.

KEITH: Garry Trudeau, the show's creator, says the Tea Party primary challenges that provide the show's driving tension are even more a reality now than when he wrote it.

TRUDEAU: They're being primaried right now, big time, by the Tea Party. It's about how they react to that, and how they have to reform themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

KEITH: A bipartisan crowd showed up at a Washington premiere for the show earlier this week, where Amazon passed out campaign buttons featuring the lead characters, and American flag lapel pins. Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, makes a cameo appearance on "Alpha House" and counts himself a fan.

MICHAEL STEELE: There are these elements of it that if you're sitting there and you know anything about this town, you're going to sit there and go: That reminds me of so-and-so, or I was in a situation very much like that.

KEITH: For Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, it hits close to home.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: It's a little over the top. But it is - you know, good parody and pretty funny stuff.

KEITH: The show was inspired by an article about a group of Democratic lawmakers who share a home. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin lives in the real Alpha House.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: The couch, which is the centerpiece of the living room, is one that my son tried to throw away, but we wouldn't let him. It's better than anything we own.

KEITH: He says the show has clearly taken some liberties.

DURBIN: Republicans and sleepover women, and - I mean, none of that. The only sleepover women in our house are wives - (Laughter) - our own.

KEITH: It seems "Alpha House" has already won over some segment of the Washington-insider crowd. The real question is whether the general public will elect to watch it.

Tamara Keith, NPR news, the capital.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: It's NPR News.

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