Sen. Dick Durbin’s frat-style D.C. home inspires ‘Alpha House’
BY LYNN SWEET Twitter: @lynnsweet November 28, 2013 6:14PM
Mark Consuelos (left), John Goodman, Clark Johnson and Matt Malloy star in "Alpha House," a new series on Amazon.com. | Amazon Studios via AP
Updated: December 30, 2013 12:27PM
WASHINGTON — A few years ago, “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau read about a group of male, married Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., rooming together in a Capitol Hill rowhouse, saving money by living frat-style. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is the slob, sleeping on a bed in the living room.
Trudeau found inspiration in their story and used it as the jumping-off point to create his new comedy, “Alpha House,” an Amazon.com streaming video series debuting this month.
Durbin, up for re-election in 2014, won’t have to worry about being portrayed in a political satire. The residents in Trudeau’s “Alpha House” are Republicans.
“It’s just more fun for them to be Republicans,” “Alpha House” executive producer Jonathan Alter told me.
The series is set in the present, and Trudeau decided early on that Republicans were the riper targets to lampoon. Three of the senators — played by John Goodman, Clark Johnson and Matt Malloy — are facing primaries from tea party challengers in 2014 and the fourth, portrayed by Mark Consuelos, is — between trysts — considering a 2016 White House bid.
Alter is the MSNBC commentator, former Newsweek columnist and author — his latest is “The Center Holds: Obama and his Enemies” — whose path to political journalism started in Chicago.
He was raised on the North Side, graduating from Francis Parker in Lincoln Park. His late mother, Joanne, was a Democratic Metropolitan Sanitary District trustee (it’s now called the Water Reclamation District) who unsuccessfully made bids for lieutenant governor and Cook County Clerk.
Alter met Trudeau in 1990 while he was writing a Newsweek cover, “Inside Doonesbury’s Brain.” They became friends, heading to New Hampshire every four years on a first-in-the-nation presidential primary road trip.
In New Hampshire in 2012, Alter asked Trudeau what he was working on. Trudeau told him about the “Alpha House” project, and Alter ended up selling it to Amazon.
Alter said the characters come “out of Garry’s imagination . . . kind of like ‘Doonesbury.’ ”
At a recent screening for the series at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Trudeau said he had former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., in mind in part when he crafted Goodman’s role as Sen. Gil John Biggs from North Carolina. Malloy plays an effeminate Sen. Louis Laffer, a Nevada Mormon who owns the house. Johnson is Sen. Robert Bettencourt, from Pennsylvania, who is facing an ethics probe.
Consuelos is Sen. Andy Guzman from Florida, a Cuban American who in the first episode brings his girlfriend to live with him in Alpha House.
That’s far more racy than in real life, where the only women who stay overnight in the Democratic rowhouse are wives.
Durbin said when Alter told him about the series and how “my living arrangement for the last 20 years inspired this show... Then he described the show to me, and it didn’t sound like anything I had been through.”
The rowhouse, a few blocks from the Capitol, is owned by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. Durbin moved in after former Rep. Marty Russo, D-Ill., lost a 1992 re-election bid. Durbin and Schumer remained in Miller’s home after they were elected to the Senate.
Durbin is the No. 2 Senate leader; Schumer is No. 3. Schumer is the one who never makes his bed.
“Aside from cold cereal and milk in the refrigerator, I wouldn’t say there is much to live on in that place,” Durbin said.
A cleaning person comes in about every two weeks.
“It is run-down but not dirty,” Durbin said.
From time to time there are rats. “My wife says it is worse than anything I lived in in college,” Durbin said.
In “Alpha House,” Wanda Sykes plays a Democratic senator from Illinois who is a neighbor. While she is not based on former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., Alter told me Sykes read up on her and her “costumes were done partly on the basis of how Carol Moseley Braun dresses.”
Not far from the beat-up Durbin, Schumer and Miller frat is an elegant townhouse owned by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who rents out rooms to female lawmakers. Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., rooms there; so did former Rep. Melissa Bean, D-Ill., when she was in Congress. There’s more reality to milk on Capitol Hill.