Being familiar with the source material for ABC’s midseason show Alex Inc. has its advantages — but it’s not essential for your enjoyment of the new sitcom. In case you don’t know about the show’s muse, Alex Blumberg, let me give you a ten second history lesson. Back in 2014, Alex decided to leave his job as producer of NPR’s This American Life and co-creator of the Planet Money podcast and start his own podcast company. He recorded the whole thing (successes and mistakes) and shared it with listeners on a podcast called StartUp. One can assume he’s had some success with his venture considering there’s now a TV show about this story.
I knew going in that I’d be biased towards Alex Inc. for several reasons. 1) I had listened to the first and second season of StartUp as each episode was released. 2) From the teasers, I picked up on nods to the source material and was instantly intrigued. 3) I found the podcast to be encouraging in my own personal journey, so the show would at least make me smile. 4) Zach Braff. 5) Zach Braff. 6) Zac— you get the idea.
There are many positives to Alex Inc. For starters, it’s lighthearted and is something the whole family can enjoy. It’s realistic and relatable and not watered down to point where everything feels safe. Alex is a father of two who decides to quit his well-paying job to start his own podcast company (deja vu?). Along with those stresses, he also needs to pitch to investors, find a work space for his company, and come up with enough money to pay for that space. Will he borrow money from the 401(k) after telling his wife he wouldn’t?
The show is interesting and holds your attention with its well-written and likable characters. Where it truly shines is with its cast. Staring Zach Braff (Scrubs, Garden State), Tiya Sircar (Star Wars Rebels), Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos), and Hillary Anne Matthews (Single By 30), the chemistry between each character is very present and engaging; whether they’re laughing or arguing it’s real and believable. Alex’s kids (played by Elisha Henig and Audyssie James) are phenomenal. They bring just the right amount of quirkiness and authenticity to their roles and they are so much fun to watch.
Of course turning Alex Blumberg’s StartUp podcast into a sitcom has its challenges. A TV show requires active participation from the viewer, while the listener can consume a podcast anywhere (the car, office, kitchen etc.), it also has be funny for at least 30 minutes. And that’s the tricky part.
The podcast is in no way boring, but it doesn’t allow for the smoothest of transitions to television. Blumberg’s radio and podcast personalities are down to Earth, while Braff’s Alex Schuman is sillier and reminiscent of his Scrubs character, John “J.D.” Dorian. Another hurdle is taking an audio experience and adding visuals. We wind up with created characters and embellished storylines. Sometimes it works and other times the results are sight gags and physical humor that seem a little forced, like an office chair tipping forward and dispensing its occupant on the floor. It doesn’t take away from the story, but it doesn’t enhance it either.
Given its half hour time frame, the show moves quickly and never verges on boring. It reimagines a true story in a way that’s relatable for its audience and doesn’t require a familiarity with the podcast to fully enjoy it. I give Alex Inc. 3.5 out of 5 podcast subscriptions.