‘StartUp’: A Thriller About a ‘Crypto-Currency’

A thriller mixing high-tech finance and low-down sex and violence, StartUp is a new drama streaming on Crackle that really wants to be your next binge. To achieve that, it has to persuade you that its premise has juice as a Miami-set drama and that star Adam Brody has found a worthy post-O.C. TV role. You also have to buy Martin Freeman (Fargo, Lord of the Rings) as a hard-boiled FBI agent, Phil Rask.

StartUp revolves around an almost abstract concept: GenCoin — a “crypto-currency” in the barely-a-tradition of bitcoin — that everyone in this show is obliged to say is going to revolutionize capitalism. “It’s the future!” “I believe in this, I really do!” yelp GenCoin hype-artists Nick Talman (Brody) and tech-smarty Izzy Morales (Otmara Marrero). They’re so impassioned that they find an unlikely convert and business partner in Ronald Dacey (Edi Gathegi), a brainy thug who buys into this startup with a gun and a debt chit: Part of the seed money comes from funds Nick’s father has bilked Ronald out of.

Nick, Ronald and Izzy — she’s the real brains behind GenCoin, although she’s poor and working out of her parents’ garage — are a highly unlikely collaborative trio. I didn’t buy their unity for a second, no matter how earnestly Brody can deliver that “I believe in this” line.

If it looks as though I’m giving Freeman short shrift here, it’s because in the three episodes I watched, he’s regularly pushed to the sidelines of the show. In theory, this should be a refreshing new role to savor Freeman in — he’s playing something we haven’t seen from him before: a smooth, shady tough guy. But his investigation into Nick’s father and, soon enough, Nick and his partners, runs parallel to Nick/Izzy/Ronald without intersecting enough to make him a key element in the show. In the third episode, Freeman’s Agent Rask gets a showy scene atop a building, explaining how the economy of Miami works to a novice agent played by Jocelin Donahue. The moment is strongly reminiscent (to put it kindly) of the way director Michael Mann shot his underrated 2006 feature film version of Miami Vice, but it doesn’t have the heft of content and style that Mann’s work possesses.

I also really disliked the way Freeman’s Rask treats that agent, Maddie Pierce, with a condescending sexism that wafts through the rest of Startup as well: In the show’s first episode, every major character is shown in a gratuitous sex scene, as though the idea was, well, if the viewers don’t buy this GenCoin thing, maybe they’ll stick around for the sex. We’ll see how that pays off for Startup.

StartUp is streaming now on Crackle.