More than 50 percent of startups fail in their first five years. Crackle’s new show will likely join that statistic in its first two: StartUp has all the makings of a top-tier prestige drama — dark lighting, sex scenes, cursing, screaming, serious themes — but comes off as totally average. It features strong (for the most part) performances and an intriguing concept, but doesn’t exactly hit its mark. What it lacks in quality, however, it certainly makes up for in heart. It is clear that StartUp is committed to its message but the follow-through just isn’t there.
StartUp tells the interweaving stories of four main characters living in Miami. Nick Talman (Adam Brody) is a straight-laced banker in way over his head cleaning up his money-laundering father’s mess. Phil Rask (Martin Freeman) is a smarmy FBI agent tracking the money moved by Nick’s father. Ronald Dacey (Edi Gathegi) is a high-ranking Haitian gangster, trying to protect his family and the owner of money which Nick’s dad moved. Finally, Izzy Morales (Otmaro Marrero) is a Cuban-American Stanford-alum desperate to get funds for the untraceable digital currency, GenCoin, that she created — the titular startup.
The stories come together as Nick invests his father’s laundered money in Izzy’s company after his bank turns her down, thinking that it’s the best way to move his father’s money while changing the future. They run into trouble when Ronald comes looking for his money. Izzy, savvy and determined, decides to pitch her idea for GenCoin to Ronald. Ronald does not think that GenCoin is as valuable as his missing cash, but decides to invest in it after Izzy stresses that it will revolutionize crime. Phil, the last piece of the puzzle, acts as the show’s antagonist, tracing GenCoin’s seed funding to Ronald’s dirty money.
StartUp takes place in Miami, allowing the show’s creative team to explore the dynamics between characters who differ in personality, motivation and culture. StartUp shows the tough reality of Haitian gangs, and focuses on the struggle Ronald faces to create a better future for his family. It also follows the lives of Cuban-Americans in depth when Izzy’s family sees her work as meaningless and a waste of her Stanford degree. Izzy’s mother has good intentions and wants more for her, hoping that she’ll take a high-paying job to escape their financial struggles rather than wasting time on a money drain idea. Overall, StartUp emphasizes that the “American Dream” does not come easily. Characters like Izzy and Ronald must make ethically complicated decisions in order to attain a better future for themselves and their families.
At face value, Izzy is the most interesting in the show. StartUp’s writers call attention to the fact that Izzy is very much in the minority as a Hispanic woman working in the male-dominated field of computer science. Izzy’s status as an ingenious programmer is never called into question or hedged. Unfortunately, her storylines fall flat when the writers lazily fall back on a tiring sub-plot concerning Izzy and her family, and fail to flesh out her motivation beyond saying that she wants to change the world.
Ronald’s subplots prove to be the most consistently engaging as he struggles to find a way out of the violent life he was born into and create a better life for his family. His motivation becomes ever clearer as he watches people in his community lose their loved ones to violence, and fears the same happening to his family. Edi Gathegi delivers an incredibly strong performance, portraying Ronald as formidable, but fearful for his family. Ronald instills fear in those he encounters, clearly demonstrating his high rank, but is much more resistant to unnecessary violence than his subordinates.
Martin Freeman also delivers as Phil Rask, a character who could easily become flat very quickly. It is unique to see Martin Freeman in a role where he is not easily loved. This fact, however, adds to the otherwise slimy character. Phil is dedicated to his job as an FBI agent and willing to prod and manipulate people to get what he wants. Because Freeman has this inherent likability, however, Phil is more than just a tough FBI agent: A snake, but a likeable snake nonetheless.
Overall, StartUp has all the right elements of a prestige drama, but just does not stack up in comparison to excellent shows like Mr. Robot, which examines similar themes of financial corruption and technology. While enjoyable and intriguing, StartUp would greatly benefit if its writers tightened its storylines and focused on meaningful character development rather than flashy themes.
Brynn Richter is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.