With the recent government shut down, the ongoing ObamaCare debate and a seemingly endless parade of politicians willing to make buffoons of themselves in public, the cast of the new comedy series "Alpha House" believe the timing couldn't be better to poke fun at the men and women of the U.S. Capital.
"Right now those guys are sitting ducks," Clark Johnson, who plays a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, says. "That Hill is just shimmering there for everyone to take comedy pot-shots at. Pies flying from every direction at those guys."
"Alpha House" is one of two new comedies from Amazon Studios and will be released Friday (the second, "Betas," about a tech start-up in Silicon Valley, debuts November 22).
Written and created by Garry Trudeau ("Doonesbury") "Alpha House" centers on the lives of four misfit incumbent Republican Senators renting a house together in Washington, D.C., and follows them as they struggle to hold on to their core values (and seats) in the face of competition from upstart Tea Party members.
John Goodman ("Roseanne"), Matt Malloy ("The Company of Men"), Johnson ("The Sentinel") and Mark Consuelos ("All My Children") star as the senators, with Yara Martinez ("The Unit") Haley Joel Osment ("The Sixth Sense"), Cynthia Nixon ("Sex and the City"), Wanda Sykes ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") and Amy Sedaris ("Strangers With Candy") rounding out the cast.
For Goodman its a welcome return to a comedy series, but he admits his personal interest in politics has waned over the years. "I was [into it] for a while but I get angry too easily these days," Goodman says. "I found over the years it will take care of itself, usually."
That said, the "Argo" actor is quick to assure that politics is only a small part of what makes "Alpha House" work as a comedy. "Look my character is just a guy with a retirement job," Goodman says of his role as blustery Sen. Gil-John Biggs who's suddenly facing a challenge for his seat. "He was a basketball coach in North Carolina and now he is a senator."
"I think everyone these days can identify with the need to keep your job," adds Molloy. "Especially in today’s climate. Job number one in Washington is to keep your job and your dignity if possible."
Dignity is one thing Molloy's character Sen. Louis Laffer Jr. strives for. Laffer has issues asserting his authority - in office, at home, with his daughter - and cannot understand why his fellow Republicans find him sexually ambiguous. Like Johnson, Molloy believes the success of shows such as "House of Cards" and "Veep," and recent Capital Hill goings-on only makes "Alpha House" that much more accessible to audiences.
"It feels like watching theater," Molloy says of the current state of politics. "Where one half of the actors on stage wants the other half to do poorly and fall down. Or embarrass themselves." "I was in that play," quips Goodman in response.
Such off-the-cuff funny business rarely gets a look in in the series according to the cast, who reveal that while they happily crack each other up on set, improvising dialogue outside the script is a rarity.
"We don’t need to play with it much because it is all so drop dead funny to the point where, some shows you are on you have to try and save your soul, but not here," Johnson says of Trudeau's words. "We’re in the hands of great writing that is well researched. So we know that if we are spewing out something funny it’s also a little fact based and might bother some people."
"I think it only helps us as we are jabbing both sides of the aisle," Consuelos adds. "Nobody likes dysfunctional government whether you are a hard core lefty or righty."
So far, both camps appear to be unfazed by the series.
"Alpha House" features cameos from those working inside the Beltway as well as those covering that world. New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer appears as himself in a future episode and faux news anchor Stephen Colbert turns up in the pilot. The show's premise is based on the actual row house that Schumer shares with Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and California Representative George Miller when the trio are all in D.C. working.
Johnson believes part of the fun of having such cameos is whether their profile reaches beyond the political spectrum. "A lot of times they are Washington celebrities so outside the Beltway, no offense to careers and such, but often the average viewer is not going to know who they are," Johnson explains. "But it’s funny on the inside"
The first three episodes of "Alpha House" will be available free to watch from November 15, and then new episodes will be released on a weekly basis free-of-charge for Amazon Prime members.