Streaming TV reviews: Amazon's 'Alpha House' and 'Betas'

Wednesday, 20 November 2013 12:31 PM Written by 

alpha house

Earlier this year I reviewed the pilot of Amazon's "Alpha House" and last week the streaming service added an additional two episodes. The show's first three episodes are available for free; access to subsequent episodes in the 11-episode first season, which will be posted weekly, will require a subscription to Amazon Prime.

The comedy, written by Garry Trudeau ("Doonesbury"), is another of those amusing but not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny sitcoms that are so popular on premium cable channels. With the political focus, it's probably closest tonally to HBO's "Veep," although "Alpha House" is more rooted in reality than the absurd "Veep."

"Alpha House" follows four Republican U.S. Senators who share a house on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. John Goodman stars as Gil John Biggs from North Carolina, who is lazy and tired most of the time. Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy) is from Nevada and despite his marriage to a woman he's constantly rumored to be gay. Pennsylvania's Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson, "Homicide: Life on the Street") is under an ethics investigation and Andy Guzman (Mark Consuelos), from Florida, is the youngest and newest member of Alpha House.

The show is amusing but the promise of the pilot goes unfulfilled in the two subsequent episodes, which seem overly familiar. It's not a bad show, but it's not must-see either. And for alternate viewing services like Amazon to stand out, they're going to have to come up with TV shows that feel fresh and get talked about the way Netflix did with "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black."

And what about the other new Amazon streaming series, "Betas," which debuts three episodes Friday? Read more after the jump. ...

betas

Amazon's second original series, "Betas," is executive produced by Pittsburgh native Alan Cohen ("King of the Hill"), a 1982 graduate of Pittsburgh Allderdice High School.

"Betas" is a mix of "The Big Bang Theory" and "The Social Network" as it focuses on a group of guys trying to make it big in Silicon Valley with a new app, BRB.

Trey (Joe Dinicol, who's sort of a younger Jay Baruchel), is the leader and Nash (Karan Soni), is his socially awkward, programming guru. They're joined by the older, weirder Hobbes (Jon Daly) and no-game-with-girls Mitchell (Charlie Saxton).

Of Amazon's two series, "Betas" feels fresher but also more niche. It helps to have some knowledge of Internet start-ups to understand all the techno-geek banter, though the show's heart is in its characters and their relationships.

"Betas" is also raunchier and funnier than "Alpha House" and seems willing to take greater story risks. It's a little wild and woolly and more serialized; it's also more addictive. After three episodes, I feel invested in the "Betas" characters and I'm eager to see where the story takes them. That's the kind of impact streaming shows -- and linear programming, too -- has to inspire to garner attention in the cluttered TV programming universe we now live in.

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