Hit or Sh**: Crackle’s STARTUP
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Despite its slow pacing and gratuitous GOT-style sex scenes, STARTUP is the kind of show that deserves to be made, and the reason is Izzy Morales (Otmara Marrero). Amidst the influx of tech dramas with predominantly white male casts (sorry SILICON VALLEY), we finally see a startup show where the coding genius is a Cubano woman struggling to get investors to take her seriously because of her status as a female person of color. That STARTUP addresses this issue at all is almost enough to forgive the show’s grievances — almost. However, in order to pave the way for more inherently progressive content like STARTUP, we as viewers need to remind producers that there’s an audience for them.
Izzy Morales (Otmara Marrero) pitching GenCoin, her improved version BitCoin, to a group of uncomfortable white people who are scared that there’s a brown person in the office
The premise of the techno-thriller in and of itself is also an interesting platform for discourse. Morales sets out to create GenCoin, a version of Bitcoin that would be “[un]susceptible to third-party interference and ultimately corruption.” In order to devote adequate time to the GenCoin algorithm, Izzy’s many sacrifices for the course include letting a molly-popping dude bro “come inside [her] for a year” so she can mooch off his rent. This, perhaps, is the only necessary (and very unsexy) sex scene in the first episode, as Izzy stares lifelessly at a bouncing lawn gnome on the bedside table while said dude unceremoniously finishes inside her. For the viewer, it serves to reinterpret what “founder ramen dues” might mean when you’re a woman from Hialeah.
Ronald Dacey (Edi Gathegi), startup investor, Haitian gang leader, lover of French toast and torture
For gangster-turned-investor Ronald Dacey (Edi Gathegi), the barriers to his participation in the startup environment are more than just money, and as a father struggling to give his son a less violent life than the one he leads, the stakes are much higher if he fails. Dacey views GenCoin as a way to get families like his out of their desperate circumstances in Little Haiti. Behind both the intentions of Morales and Dacey is a desire not just to better their circumstances, but their communities through crypto-currency, and this provides the necessary optimistic STARTUP mentality to drive the show forward. Well, this and WASP-Y South Beach Nick Talman’s (Adam Brody) desire to get out of his stable and financially successful job at an investment bank so he can make something of himself (ah, privilege, for which Morales and Dacey call him out on plenty).
Agent Rask (Martin Freeman) and Nick Talman (Adam Brody) reminding you that at least half of the leads in this show will still be white and male
It’s fun to see Martin Freeman in the role of corrupt Agent Rask, though his performance is both on-point and a fairly status quo variation on many dirty cops we’ve seen before. Hopefully A-list names like Freeman, Brody, and Gathegi can bring the issues STARTUP is attempting to discuss to the forefront of our consciousness, but the show potentially has a fatal flaw. Despite a killer cast, decent cinematography, and the very specific attention to setting that a show set in Miami needs to attempt to differentiate itself from the many others before it, STARTUP moves like molasses.
For STARTUP to succeed in the long run, the unnecessary, male gaze-y (and frankly boring) sex scenes need to be scrapped. If you’re relying on four sex scenes in the first episode for the sake of character development — in a show that’s supposed to be bringing issues of sexism in tech to the forefront — then write better. This show is supposed to be about the intersection of tech and crime, so there isn’t an excuse for a dull moment, especially considering this show is designed to be delivered via the binge watch format and relies on the viewer not losing steam after the first episode. But if you can make it through the sluggishness, as well as overused tropes such as Miami clubs, drugs, and semiautomatic weapons, there are some truly compelling moments of storytelling depicting cross cultural conversations between the white male tech world and those struggling to find a voice. Chances are, however, that you will survive the first three or four episodes like I did, get to the fifth one, quit halfway because this is another well-meaning waste of your time, and guiltily queue up SCORPION.
STARTUP is available in its entirety on Crackle