(warning: plot discussion. I don’t know that it’s a spoiler, because I think knowing this would actually enhance viewing)
So, Garry Trudeau made a TV show. Yeah, THAT Garry Trudeau. It’s political, of course. It’s called “Alpha House” and the main conceit is that it’s about a home where four Republicans senators live. I thought it was cute, but not really enough to watch. Allie gave it two episodes, then told me I had to catch up, or she was going to mainline the whole thing without me.
So now I’m in. I’m watching the Cuban Senator from Florida who speaks no Spanish and is trying to push the GWoT-VD2 (Global War on Terrorism Veterans Day 2) bill, no matter how many times people tell him it sounds like a venereal disease or a vitamin supplement. I’m watching the effeminate Nevada senator who goes to Afghanistan so his congressional opponent won’t out-macho him, and comes back with a broken leg and a nation of people calling him “hero”. I’m watching the Pennsylvania Senator who is keeping his head down while an ethics committee investigates allegations that he kept a mohair coat from a fundraiser. I watched the secondary storylines affecting the staffers who are hooking up, fighting to keep the Senators from looking like morons, and slowly coming to terms with their disenchantment for the whole process.
But if there is one main character, it’s Gil John Biggs, played by John Goodman. He’s a North Carolina basketball coach who walked into the Senator seat on name recognition. Now, years later, he’s a veteran of the congressional wars, and knows how to keep the machine going. He’s a tired, cranky old cynic, and he’s happy with it. He’s even got an old basset hound that he takes to the office.
However, he’s facing competition for the first time, when the current Tar Heels NCU basketball coach announces his bid. For the first time, Gil John has to campaign.
Now, we’re about nine episodes in, and the show is pretty much everything I expected. Biting commentary, brilliant discussion of the parties and their motivations. And little, episodic, storylines that are painful in the way The Office is painful.
Something changed recently. Gil John is driving around North Carolina, staying ahead of his campaign bus as he drives his rented, dented, blue Chevy truck. At one point, he decides to go AWOL, and drive by his old home town. He figures it might even look good to the voters, to humanize the candidate. He’s talking to his body man about how everything’s so different, and almost always for the worst.
He sees an old barber shop he frequented when he was a kid, and decides they need to get haircuts. While in there, he’s chatting with the grizzled old men who work there.
Except he’s not. The whole time he’s in the chair, Gil John is just listening to them. They talk about how the government is falling apart and how the “takers” are getting all the unemployment and disability benefits, which just hurts the honest, hardworking Americans. When GJ’s body man, Hakeem, asks, “Who are the takers?” They’re quick to say, “Oh, not you. I mean the immigrants.” – “I was born in Nigeria.” – “Yeah, but you’re a ball player.”
They talk about how bad the economy is, and one of them says, “My brother’s a farmer and he says it’s getting so bad out there, he’s gonna have to start putting out a crop or something.” Another one nods, “You know what my brother’s planting? Tobacco! I kid you not. And, of course, there’s barely enough illegals left to do the work.”
Gil John stands up and says, “Well, fellas, we gotta go. What do I owe you?”
“For you, coach? It’s on the house.”
“No, sir. I think I’ll pay today.”
Now, I’ve been watching and enjoying this show for a while now. But in that moment, something changed. I knew GJ was too smart to stand around while they were talking like that. But when he insisted on paying, there was this subtle shift in the whole show.
As he left, he said, “I think I liked it better in the old days, when the bigotry was right out there.” He sent his body man back and walked out to the beach. He sat next to a fishing pole for a long time, and when he spotted one his opponent’s supporters, he called her over and talked to her. He says, “It’s your job to follow me, and hope that I screw up.”
“Well, I don’t HOPE for it, sir.”
“No, but if you catch it, you get a chance to make history.” He pauses for a minute and says, “Here, get out your camera. Let’s make history.” Then he starts telling her the story of that beach.
Allie thinks he’s changing parties.
This just turned into a different show, and I’m totally hooked.