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After making audiences chuckle with dorky glee for most of Scrubs' entire run -- it's best to forget how that ended -- Zach Braff shifted his focus away from being a TV lead for a while. Thankfully for his fans, the always affable Braff (Braff-able?) is coming back to primetime with ABC's Alex, Inc., which works as 50% heartwarming family comedy and 50% quirky workplace comedy. Unfortunately, a large percentage of both sides is tepidly boring, with Alex, Inc. never quite becoming either quirky or heartwarming enough to hold water in its early episodes. We need some Rowdy to liven things up, stat.
Alex, Inc. starts off on a familiar and solid enough TV foundation, with Braff's Alex Schuman vacating a comfortable career as a radio producer to try his hand at developing a startup company. Rather than something that would immediately bring about fame and fortune, Alex is actually creating a podcast production company, and is putting a lot of his own moolah into it. The long hours and high costs mean a lot of pressure is now also being put on his charming and very understanding wife, Rooni (Tiya Sircar), and their precocious two children, Ben (Elisha Henig) and Soraya (Audyssie James).
For the most part, Alex, Inc.'s family sequences are where the show most heavily flaps its heart-adorned sleeves, but even when the material feels abundantly saccharine, the performances are all on point. I genuinely enjoyed moments between just Rooni and the kids -- particularly Ben's costume fiasco -- and that side of the family dynamic poses lots of offbeat story potential. As someone who finds unrealistically crafted TV children a riot-worthy bane of the medium, Ben and Soraya were on the more subdued side of quirkiness, with their father serving as the most cartoonish one in the bunch.
Whenever Alex is around the house, however, conversations mostly revolve around his job (whose audio nature doesn't inherently provide a lot of visual comedy flair), and the life events that it's keeping him from enjoying. The work angle is obviously important, since the title implies the incorporation of the character's job and home bubbles. And some of the jokes and situations are fine, I guess. But hearing about Alex's career makes his home life suffer for viewers as much as it does for his family, and it's not something that a generically heartwarming embrace right before the credits can cure, either.
On the flip side, Alex, Inc. hits a more interesting stride whenever its recorder-carrying lead is actually at work and dealing with the eccentricities that come with the startup world's glass ceiling. One of his two main co-workers (read as: people who blindly joined him on this venture) is his extremely opinionated and talkative cousin Eddie, played by The Sopranos vet Michael Imperioli in a way that seems like a pseudo parody of a two-bit mobster, though not necessarily in a bad way. And Single By 30's Hillary Anne Matthews stars as Alex's hyper-eager producer Diedre, who jumped ships with him in a slightly Jerry Maguire-esque way. Eddie and Diedre see eye to eye the same way that oil and water see eye to eye, which adds excess stress to the already overwhelmed Alex. But it's all for the good of the company, right?
The office setting where Alex begins building his podcasting empire is arguably the most enjoyable comedic element of Alex, Inc., with several other business-minded hopefuls sharing the overall space and providing surreal and bizarre humor akin to a mix between Better Off Ted and Silicon Valley's satirical takes on technological advancements. If only there was a device that could make this show focus on more of those scenes.
Giving Alex, Inc. its dose of realism is its executive producer Alex Blumberg, upon whose experiences this entire premise is based. A longtime producer on the NPR series This American Life (and later its TV iteration), Blumberg vacated the radio network in 2014 and founded the podcast network Gimlet Media with Matthew Lieber, who also serves as executive producer for the TV series. The podcast StartUp, which began in 2014, is the technical basis for the ABC series, and regardless of one's thoughts about Alex, Inc. in particular, viewers might very well want to start listening to StartUp and other excellent Gimlet gems (like Reply All and Crimetown).
Alex, Inc. may be a huge joy for Zach Braff's biggest fans who missed his presence on network TV, but it isn't going to fill the J.D.-sized voids that Scrubs fans may be hoping for. (Despite the fact that Alex Schuman also narrates his own life with similar wit and feel-goody summaries.) Much as there is room for growth with Alex's fictional company, Alex, Inc. has the potential to be a truly great and memorable series, capitalizing on clever gags and realistic family relationships. Currently, though, it's only halfway to that goal, and instead of wanting to watch more, I'm just thinking about podcasts now.
Alex, Inc. will make its debut on ABC on Wednesday, March 28, at 8:30 p.m. ET. Check out why Zach Braff chose this show to return to network TV with, and then head to our midseason premiere schedule to check out all the other new shows on the way. And since we're talking about podcasts, check out CinemaBlend's own The Cord Cutter and ReelBlend.