The actor makes his big return to television with new show Alex Inc.
When many people think of Zach Braff, their mind immediately goes to John Dorian aka J.D. from Scrubs, a medical intern navigating the halls of Sacred Heart Hospital with pals Turk and Elliot by his side. Braff was beloved for his character’s inner soliloquies in which he pondered musings about love, loss and life in general. Now, he is sharing his thoughts as a different character: Alex Schuman, a radio journalist, husband and father of two, who decides to quit his job and follow his dream of starting his own company in ABC’s new sitcom, Alex, Inc.
“I was brought this podcast by producer John Davis and I just thought it was amazing. I couldn’t stop listening and I binged the whole first season,” said the actor and filmmaker who saw how much he related to Alex Blumberg and thought it could be a great TV show. So much so that he decided to direct and star in the new sitcom. “We brought on this great writer, Matt Tarses and pitched it and the good people at ABC agreed that it was really good.”
Alex, Inc. was inspired by Blumberg’s podcast called StartUp, in which he records everything that happened along his journey having no prior knowledge about starting a business.
“He’s a storyteller and it’s almost like an audio reality show. He recorded his wife when they would argue and recorded his horrible pitches to investors to the point where it became this fascinating podcast,” said Braff. “It was very meta because the podcast was the first show on his new channel that he was creating. It just felt so 2018 and relevant: going after the American dream and owning a business.”
And Braff knows a thing or two about following dreams. In 2004, he made his directorial debut with Garden State, winning numerous awards for his work. He also directed several episodes of Scrubs, Wish I Was Here (2014) and Going In Style (2017).
“I had the audacity to direct Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Christopher Lloyd and it’s that old adage about playing tennis with people who are better than you,” said Braff on directing such legends. “Looking at how much a great actor can do with very little sometimes it’s the stillness that you really sit back and appreciate. As actors we always want to do something, we want to show that we’re acting and that we’re good but sometimes less is more.”
That same mantra holds true for the show as well. Shot on location in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Alex, Inc. is set for 10 episodes, and what a jam-packed first season it seems to be. Venture investor and Shark Tank judge Chris Sacca plays himself and Braff enlisted actors Sophia Bush (Chicago P.D., One Tree Hill) and Matt Walsh (Veep) as guest stars, but shared that he didn’t want to overload the show with cameos and instead chose to establish it in its own world.
“I think it’s a nice fit for ABC primetime and they’re doing comedy better than anyone,” said Braff of Alex, Inc., which will air after The Goldbergs and before Modern Family. “We intended it to be something you can watch with your kids. Even Scrubs when you look back it was a pretty risqué show. Our show is funny, but also has a lot of heart in the way that Scrubs did. We try and make you laugh and then hopefully break your heart a little bit.”
Braff’s love of comedy goes back to fond memories with his father, coming into the city from New Jersey to see all of Neil Simon’s Broadway shows. He says it was one of the greatest gifts he was given as an aspiring writer.
“Everything Neil Simon did in the 80s my father brought us to…Matthew Broderick’s Biloxi Blues and Brighton Beach Memoirs. I was raised on Woody Allen movies and Mel Brooks, those east coast Jewish comedians,” said Braff. “What I love about comedy is the joy you get when you figure out a joke and people laugh. It’s a little bit of a puzzle.”
Another comedic inspiration is Eddie Murphy, and Braff noted that Murphy’s stand-up comedy special Delirious changed his life.
“When my dad took me to see Beverly Hills Cop it was probably my first R-rated movie,” he said. “It was one of the hardest I ever laughed in my whole life and it was such a bonding moment for both of us…we were both cracking up and are both big fans of Eddie Murphy.”
Of his favorite actors, Braff likes Leonardo DiCaprio and Denzel Washington and thinks Jonah Hill and Will Ferrell are hilarious. But when picking stars for Alex, Inc., Braff said he “searched high and wide all over the universe” for the kids.
“They’re really special and genuinely funny,” he said of his TV children Elisha Henig (Ben) and Audyssie James (Soraya). “Elisha is 13, very smart and is more well-read than most adults I know. He plays guitar incredibly well and we put that into the show. Audyssie is so sweet. She’s younger and has less experience but throughout the show she gets better and better and she’s just adorable.”
On acting, directing and filmmaking Alex, Inc. and other projects, Braff said that it all goes back to what he learned from Scrubs.
“It was like nine years of grad school. I got to work with amazing comedy writers, actors and directors and it’s rare that a filmmaker gets the experience of working with such a myriad of different styles within a nine year period,” he said. “I got to keep learning and Scrubs was a great training ground for that.”
Braff brought back Tarses, who was one of the early writers on Scrubs and he wrote one of Braff’s favorite episodes of all time called “My Old Lady.”
“It was the fourth episode when all three of us lost our first patient. It set the tone for what the show could: we were a comedy with the crazy fantasies at time but then Scrubs ingeniously could turn the corner and deal with real life problems so that episode was really moving to me,” said Braff of the episode when an older patient with a terminal illness is ready to die, and she coaches J.D., a young doctor on how to deal with her death. “I think that was really solid writing and Alex, Inc. is still a comedy but in the spirit of Scrubs, there is still a lot of emotion.”
Alex Inc. premieres on ABC March 28 at 8:30 p.m.