Braff, Tiya Sircar, and creator Matt Tarses discuss podcasting, startups, and a new American sitcom family
“I love playing a hapless good guy,” Zach Braff says with a laugh when discussing both his new sitcom character, Alex Schuman, and his most recognizable role as young physician J.D. on the long-running sitcom Scrubs.
And boy, does Braff know hapless. The actor, 42, makes his post-Scrubs TV return in ABC’s family comedy Alex, Inc., debuting Wednesday, as a married father of two who quits his successful radio job to launch — wait for it — a podcasting company. Does he know anything about starting a startup? No. But as Braff says, that’s where the comedy comes in.
“Alex is a really great dad, he’s a good man, and just like J.D., he doesn’t have a malicious cell in his body, but man does he know how to get himself over his head,” he says.
The series is inspired by the popular StartUp podcast and loosely based on host Alex Blumberg documenting the trials of pitching his own startup.
“I found it so fascinating,” Braff says of the podcast. “It’s about so many things going on in the world, and it’s about podcasting and the new version of American dream and startups and a mixed-race couple with two beautiful mixed-race children, and it was storytelling about a storyteller.”
Alex, Inc. centers on the trials of Alex’s family — his Indian-American lawyer wife, Rooni (Tiya Sircar), and their children — as he navigates and stumbles, quite literally at times, through startup life. It’s also one of the few network shows to feature a mixed-race American couple where one of the parents is of South Asian descent.
The show’s creator, Matt Tarses, says he and Braff wanted to cast an actress with a Middle Eastern or South Asian background, because in the real-life StartUp podcast, Blumberg’s wife, Nazanin, is Persian-American, and the couple’s different cultures sometimes come into conversation.
But when they came across Sircar, Tarses says, they adapted the character of Alex’s wife to draw directly from the actress’ own Bengali-American background, recruiting Sircar’s parents to advise on cultural intricacies and even incorporating Holi, the Hindu celebration of colors, into one episode.
“I love the way the family feels like a real new family,” Tarses says. “It doesn’t feel like you’ve seen it on TV a lot.”
For Sircar, who has starred in 2013’s The Internship, as Sabine Wren in Star Wars: Rebels, and as Vicky/Denise/real Eleanor on The Good Place, Rooni presented a role that she says she doesn’t come across often — a South Asian lead character not solely defined by her ethnicity.
“I love that our show doesn’t make a big deal about it. It’s just like being an Indian-American in America: It’s part of you, but it doesn’t define you,” Sircar says. “She’s by no means a token ethnic character, which I think is great. It’s about time.”
The first season of Alex, Inc. will follow Alex getting his podcast off the ground while he and Rooni have to find a new balance within their home as she juggles her already busy career. Just like Nazanin in StartUp, Rooni will often provide the reality check for Alex as she supports his new venture, and by the end of the first season, Tarses teases that there will be a new dynamic for the Schuman family.
Coming back to Wednesday’s pilot, Alex has to convince an investor why his podcasting company has the “unfair advantage” — for Alex, Inc., Braff says the “unfair advantage” is that it’s a quirky comedy for the whole family.
“We all kept hearing there’s amazing TV right now,” he says, “but there’s not a ton we can watch after dinner before putting kids to sleep, so we wanted to create something that was totally PG but smart and funny and heartfelt.”