It has been eight years since Zach Braff’s defining role as goofy doctor J.D. on “Scrubs” came to a triumphant end. Since then, the New Jersey-born actor and filmmaker has turned his focus to movies, including 2014’s “Wish I Was Here,” which Braff wrote, directed and starred in. Now, his focus has shifted back to the small screen to take on his first sitcom since the wildly successful “Scrubs.”
Braff’s new show “Alex, Inc.” takes its inspiration from the story of Alex Blumberg, whose successful, real-life podcast “StartUp” helped him create the award-winning narrative podcast company Gimlet Media. Braff plays Alex Schuman, a journalist and father of two, who quits his job at an upbeat radio show to tell the hard-hitting, interesting stories he wants to tell.
The concept may sound very niche and millennial, perhaps even a little bit boring, but this is Zach Braff we’re talking about. This master of witty voiceovers and quick asides could make “Pawn Stars” into a cheery, laugh-out loud thriller. Braff brings positivity and quick wit to every project he tackles. And while in many cases that is his greatest strength, it is this show’s biggest weakness.
“Alex, Inc.” is far too polished for the difficult topic it tackles. This is a man in his mid-thirties who just quit his job spontaneously, without so much as telling his wife Runi (Tiya Sircar, “The Good Place”). When he does inform her after the fact, she is shocked for about a minute before throwing all of her support behind him. Is it really so bad to see a spouse supporting their significant other? No, but “Alex, Inc.” fails to do anything to address the true weight of the decision that Schuman is making, a move that could potentially add some depth to an otherwise two-dimensional show.
Braff is still excellent in the role, there’s no question of that. But the dynamics of the characters make it clear that this is his show, and nobody else’s. One of the reasons that “Scrubs” was so beloved is that while Braff was the star, each supporting character had their own distinct personalities and storylines, which played off of and alongside the exaggerated and beautiful buffoonery of Braff. In “Alex, Inc.,” the supporting cast members are nothing more than underdeveloped tropes. Schuman’s producer Deirdre (Hillary Anne Matthews, “Dirtbags”) is essentially his groupie, while his second cousin and business partner Eddie (Michael Imperioli, “Hawaii Five-0”) is nothing more than an Italian Mafia caricature who delivers the occasional somewhat comical line. The most punishable crime of “Alex, Inc.” is their severe misuse of Sircar, who is an incredible actress and plays a likeable character reduced to nothing more than her husband’s cheerleader.
“Alex, Inc.” is too bubblegum for adults, but too mature to be a family show. It is clearly focused more on being a platform for an actor with as big of a personality as Braff than it is on telling its story right or integrating its talented cast well. While in “Scrubs,” Braff was a key complementary component to multiple well-told stories, in “Alex, Inc.,” he is the only story. The show chronicles the birth of a podcast, a medium that has become revolutionary in today’s entertainment industry. Yet the beauty of podcasts come from their ability to convey depth of story and emotion, just through words. “Alex, Inc.” fails to do this even with pictures on their side, leaving viewers to assume that maybe some stories are better left on the radio.