You've probably spent the last couple weeks trying to recover from all the big character deaths that both the broadcast and cable networks have thrown at us recently—and rightfully so, because there have been so many of them. But while most of our minds were focused elsewhere, the online platforms Hulu and Amazon released some new programming of their own. Oh, you haven't heard about it? Yeah, that's because they haven't been promoted especially well. But that's what I'm here for.
Back in August, I checked in on three new Hulu offerings (Moone Boy, The Awesomes, and Quick Draw, all of which will be returning for more in the future) to assess whether they were really worth squeezing into your already-packed viewing schedule. And now it's time to do the same thing with Amazon's Alpha House and Betas, as well as Hulu's The Wrong Mans. I've watched three episodes of each series; here's my report on whether they're worth your time.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? This Amazon-produced single-camera political comedy follows four Republican senators who all live in a house together in Washington, D.C. The series was created by Doonesbury mastermind Gary Trudeau and stars John Goodman, Clark Johnson (Homicide: Life on the Street, The Wire), Matt Malloy (Six Feet Under), and Mark Consuelos (Kelly Ripa's husband). Each of the senators has their own issues, from Goodman's Gil John Biggs and Malloy's Louis Laffer facing intense competition in their reelection campaigns to Johnson's Robert Bettencourt fighting off an ethics committee investigation. Consuelos's Andy Guzman mostly gets to look handsome and have sex with Yara Martinez's Adriana de Portago, but hey, someone's gotta do it.
HOW MANY EPISODES ARE THERE? There are 11 episodes, including the pilot that Amazon made available back in April when it released several shows that were in the running for possible series commitments; Alpha House and Betas were the two to make the cut. You can watch the pilot and two additional episodes for free, but you have to be an Amazon Prime subscriber to watch the other eight offerings.
WHAT'S IT KINDA LIKE? Alpha House offers pretty basic political satire, which makes it something like a low-rent version of HBO's Veep. You don't have to be that knowledgeable about the U.S. government to understand the jokes.
IS IT ANY GOOD? Kind of. Comedy is incredibly subjective, of course, but I didn't laugh that much while watching the first three episodes. However, I definitely thought Episode 3 was the funniest of the bunch, which suggests that the show is finding its footing as it moves along. That's a good sign. One of Alpha House's strengths is that each one of its lead performers brings a completely different energy to the proceedings. John Goodman does John Goodman stuff, Mark Malloy does some embarrassing cringe humor, Mark Consuelos's character is a D-bag, and Clark Johnson doesn't even seem like he's there to do comedy. Although the show could use more political bite, some interesting moments arise when the characters get into the brass tacks of their respective campaigns. Alpha House is weird at times for sure, but it's completely watchable.
THE VERDICT Take the first three episodes for a spin—that's one of the benefits of Amazon's distribution system. The third one ends on a minor cliffhanger that tries to convince you to watch more (and thus sign up for Prime), but you'll probably know by then whether the show is for you.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Amazon's second single-camera comedy introduces us to the hyper-competitive world of app development in contemporary Silicon Valley. Stanford dropouts Trey (Joe Dinicol) and Nash (Karan Soni) are the creators of a next-gen app called BRB that's basically just a cool idea with no real way to work or make money—just like most of the stuff in the Valley today. The show follows Trey, Nash, and their compatriots Hobbes (Jon Daly) and Mitchell (Charlie Saxton) as they try to get BRB off the ground, find luck with ladies, emerge from their neurotic and nerdy shells, etc. It was created by Evan Endicott and Josh Stoddard, who have done very little prominent work before this.
HOW MANY EPISODES ARE THERE? Same deal as Alpha House: 11 episodes, with three available to everyone, and eight more available for Amazon Prime members.
WHAT'S IT KINDA LIKE? The Social Network meets Entourage. Come for the app-development drama and in-fighting, stay for consistently tool-ish behavior, recreational drug use, and conversations about hot chicks.
IS IT ANY GOOD? Not really. The big issue here is that main character Trey is an absolute douche. He's not as mean-spirited as the fictionalized version of Mark Zuckerberg we saw in The Social Network, but he's ten times as smarmy. So basically, he's like every tech start-up 'CEO' you've been reading about online. Betas doesn't seem to know exactly how to portray Trey, and by extension this world that's built on possible future value and venture capital. At times, the series acknowledges that Trey sucks and/or is full of sh*t, and it similarly points to how the entire ecosystem of Silicon Valley is kind of a sham. But when those moments happen, they're almost immediately shuttled away so that Trey can look cool again, or so the story can return to how important it is to make this vague-sounding app actually work in the real world, without stolen information. The show is either trying to have it both ways with the character and the world, or it's simply unable to consistently stay in one lane. But just like with Alpha House, Betas is really easy to watch. Karan Soni and Jon Daly are pretty good as Nash and Hobbes, and Margo Harshman is fun as Trey's will-they-won't-they love interest/boss character.
THE VERDICT Well, three free episodes is still only like 90 minutes. I can't fully encourage you to watch Betas, but it might be worth checking out just to be sure that's it something you won't enjoy.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? This BBC-Hulu co-production follows Sam (Mathew Baynton) and Phil (James Corden) as they fall into a pit of kidnapping, blackmail, death, spies, and more—all because Sam picked up a ringing phone from the ground at the site of a car crash. Each time that Sam and Phil think they've figured out what's going on and who various criminals and delinquents think they are, the story gets more complicated, and they're backed into yet another corner. Baynton and Corden co-wrote the series together; previously they both worked on the popular British comedy Gavin & Stacey.
HOW MANY EPISODES ARE THERE? The first season features six episodes. Right now, four are available for free, with the other two to come over the next couple weeks. But if you're a Hulu Plus subscriber, you can access all six episodes immediately.
WHAT'S IT KINDA LIKE? The Wrong Mans is like a combination of a Coen Brothers movie and the Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost films. The show manages to balance goofball comedy that's full of pop-culture references with violence and suspense, which is not particularly easy to do. It seems aware of its ridiculous nature, but it isn't some kind of parody. The circumstances and stakes are real, even as The Wrong Mans makes time for Fight Club jokes in a scene where Sam is about to have his leg cut off.
IS IT ANY GOOD? Yes. This is by far the best of the three. Baynton and Corden play off one another very well, giving The Wrong Mans a nice comedic center that's surrounded by nutty plot developments and occasional, surprisingly dark subject matter. The story gets progressively more outrageous with each episode, but that's something you just have to go along with—and the show does a solid job of making that journey easy. The Wrong Mans is also littered with random guest spots from recognizable actors, from Dougray Scott to Homeland's David Harewood, which keeps things interesting. And since it's a co-production, there's probably more money in the production, and it shows. There's a dim grey hue saturating the proceedings that pairs nicely with the storylines.
THE VERDICT Absolutely watch this. The "official" television season didn't bring us too many good new shows, but The Wrong Mans is just that. The story motors through plot points so quickly that it's very easy to just keep hitting play on the Hulu interface. And you should.
Amazon and Hulu are still trying to figure out how and where they fit into the original programming landscape. At the moment, they're both pretty far behind Netflix, and none of these three shows will change that. But Alpha House and Betas prove that Amazon at least knows how to bring decent-to-mediocre projects together, and with The Wrong Mans, Hulu continues to take advantage of co-productions and international deals that bring American viewers most diverse programming. That's something.
Have you checked out any of these shows? If so, what'd you think? If not, do any of them sound good to you?