Fringe pitches a monthly stipend for app purchases and subscriptions as the newest employee benefit

Fringe is a new company pitching employers on a service offering lifestyle benefits for their employees in addition to, or instead of, more traditional benefits packages.

“We didn’t think it made sense that employees need to be sick, disabled, dead or 65+ to benefit from their benefits,” wrote Fringe chief executive Jordan Peace, in an email.

The Richmond, Va.-based company was founded by five college friends from Virginia Tech rounded up by Peace and Jason Murray, who serves as the company’s head of Strategy and Finance. The two men previously owned a financial planning firm called Greenhouse Money, which worked with small businesses to set up benefits packages and retirement accounts.

During that time, the two men had a revelation… Employees at these small and medium-sized businesses didn’t just want retirement or healthcare benefits, they wanted perks that were more applicable to their day-to-day lives. Since Murray and Peace couldn’t find a company that offered a flexible benefits package on things like Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu subscriptions, Uber rides, Grubhub orders, or Instacart deliveries, they built one themselves.

As they grew their business they brought in college friends including Isaiah Goodall as the vice president of partnerships, Chris Luhrman as the vice president of operations and Andrew Dunlap as  the head of product.

Peace and Murray first launched the business in 2018 and now count over 100 delivery services, exercise apps, cleaning services and other apps of convenience among their offerings.

For their part, employers pay $5 per employee-covered per month and set up a monthly stipend (that may or may not be subtracted from a total benefits package) of somewhere between $50 and $200 that employees can spend on subscription services.

It’s a pitch to employers that Peace says is especially compelling as office culture changes in the wake of massive office closures and work-from-home orders from major US companies as a response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

“In-office perks and even most ‘off-site’ perks (gyms, massage spas, etc.) are all null and void,” wrote Peace. “Even post-COVID, it’s highly likely that many of these aspects of office culture will bear less significance with many CEOs vowing to allow ‘WFH forever’. This means companies need a way to package of their office culture, and ship them home. Fringe is perfectly positioned for this and determined to be the first name that comes to mind to provide a solution.”

Peace sees this as the next step in the evolution of benefits offerings for employees. He traces its legacy to the development of private health insurance, 401k retirement plans. “After another 40 years lifestyle benefits are the newest breakthrough — and like its predecessors, will be almost universally adopted in the next 5 years,” Peace wrote.

Original Content podcast: ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ is a goofy delight

The new Netflix comedy “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”  should win anyone over, even if you’re not a huge Will Ferrell fan and have no idea what Eurovision is.

The film stars Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as the titular Icelandic musical duo, who are pursuing a lifelong dream of winning at the enormous international musical competition. The film features cameo appearances from past Eurovision performers, and it feels less like a parody and more like a celebration — albeit one that fully embraces the insane costumes and over-the-top production numbers.

The Icelandic accents fade in and out, while the script — written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele — can feel a bit by-the-numbers. But it’s all easy to forgive, thanks to the movie’s obvious goofiness.

“The Story of Fire Saga” also benefits from some memorable performances. McAdams, for one, brings a surprising conviction to her dramatic scenes and her (obviously lip synched) songs. The movie’s also a treat for Dan Stevens fans, as the “Legion” actor goes deliciously over-the-top as the Russian singer Alexander Lemtov.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:24 “Eurovision Song Contest” review
22:21 “Eurovision Song Contest” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: ‘The Politician’ returns for an entertaining but pointless Season 2

When “The Politician” debuted on Netflix last year, it divided the hosts of the Original Content podcast. After season two, we were more united: The show is not good.

To be clear, “The Politician” is still pretty entertaining, thanks to a consistent dedication to packing as many ridiculous plot twists as possible into any given episode. But the glibness of its approach to contemporary politics feels emptier than ever.

As teased at the end of season one, the show has jumped forward a few years from titular politician Payton Hobart’s contentious election for student body president. Payton (played by Ben Platt) is now a student at NYU, and he’s launched a longshot campaign for the seat currently occupied by veteran New York State Senator Dede Standish (Judith Light).

While Platt’s performance remains compelling — especially in the rare moments when he gets a chance to sing — Payton still feels like a teenager playacting as a real politician, and his climate change-focused platform feels only distantly related to the concerns of real-world environmental activists.

Even worse, Payton is sidelined for stretches of the show as its writers become increasingly obsessed with Standish’s complicated love life. Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with a series that wants to explore non-traditional relationships, but we couldn’t escape the suspicion that they just thought it was hilarious to make Platt, Light and Bette Middler (playing Standish’s chief of staff Hadassah Gold) say the word “throuple” as often as possible.

Before we get to our review, we also discuss our excitement (particularly Anthony’s) after seeing the first trailer for “Foundation,” an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction series coming to Apple TV+ next year.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:30 “Foundation” discussion
12:02 “The Politician” review
29:29 “The Politician” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: ‘The Politician’ returns for an entertaining but pointless Season 2

When “The Politician” debuted on Netflix last year, it divided the hosts of the Original Content podcast. After season two, we were more united: The show is not good.

To be clear, “The Politician” is still pretty entertaining, thanks to a consistent dedication to packing as many ridiculous plot twists as possible into any given episode. But the glibness of its approach to contemporary politics feels emptier than ever.

As teased at the end of season one, the show has jumped forward a few years from titular politician Payton Hobart’s contentious election for student body president. Payton (played by Ben Platt) is now a student at NYU, and he’s launched a longshot campaign for the seat currently occupied by veteran New York State Senator Dede Standish (Judith Light).

While Platt’s performance remains compelling — especially in the rare moments when he gets a chance to sing — Payton still feels like a teenager playacting as a real politician, and his climate change-focused platform feels only distantly related to the concerns of real-world environmental activists.

Even worse, Payton is sidelined for stretches of the show as its writers become increasingly obsessed with Standish’s complicated love life. Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with a series that wants to explore non-traditional relationships, but we couldn’t escape the suspicion that they just thought it was hilarious to make Platt, Light and Bette Middler (playing Standish’s chief of staff Hadassah Gold) say the word “throuple” as often as possible.

Before we get to our review, we also discuss our excitement (particularly Anthony’s) after seeing the first trailer for “Foundation,” an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction series coming to Apple TV+ next year.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:30 “Foundation” discussion
12:02 “The Politician” review
29:29 “The Politician” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: ‘Da 5 Bloods’ provides a brutal look back at the Vietnam War

“Da 5 Bloods,” the new Netflix film co-written and directed by Spike Lee, tells the story of four Black veterans who return to Vietnam decades after the war, in search of hidden gold and the body of their long-dead squad leader.

The film seems to straddle several genres, starting out as a drama focused on the relationship between the four older men — but it becomes more of a western as it progresses, and their conversations are increasingly punctuated by brutal violence.

Whatever the genre, “Da 5 Bloods” is openly polemical — emphasizing the war’s lingering scars on both American veterans and Vietnam — and formally audacious. It mixes different visual styles to stunning effect, while also casually demonstrating a superior alternative to the expensive  de-aging effects seen in last year’s big Netflix movie “The Irishman.” And It’s all held together by Delroy Lindo’s magnificent performance as Paul, the “blood” who seems most tormented by his memories of the war.

In addition to reviewing the film, we use the free release of HBO’s “Watchmen” this weekend as an excuse to talk about how much we like the show.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:31 “Watchmen” discussion
5:16 “Da 5 Bloods” review
23:30 “Da 5 Bloods” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: The new season of ‘Queer Eye’ is exactly what we needed

With everything that’s going on in the world right now, it’s nice to know that we can rely on Netflix’s “Queer Eye” to continue tugging at our heartstrings.

The latest season was filmed during what looks like a sweltering Philadelphia summer, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The basic “Queer Eye” formula hasn’t changed, with the Fab Five once again taking on the task of helping ten individuals up their game in interior design, fashion, cooking, grooming and culture.

But the show proves adept at finding the perfect guests to plug into that template, whether it’s a gay pastor or a struggling dog groomer. It also finds interesting ways to break the formula, and for the Fab Five to reveal more about their personalities and pasts.

More than anything, “Queer Eye” feels like perfect comfort viewing. It returns us to a time when hugs were the perfect way to greet new friends, and convinces us that our personal demons can be defeated — we just someone to point us in the right direction, and maybe buy us some new clothes, too.

In addition to our review, we also discuss the current plans to reopen movie theaters and listener response to our review of “Space Force.”

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter and send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:35 “Space Force” listener response
5:31 Movie theater reopenings
16:24 “Queer Eye” season 5 review
23:57 “Queer Eye” season 5 spoiler discussion

Grow Credit, which builds credit scores by paying for online subscriptions, gets Mucker cash

Grow Credit, the startup that launched last year to help customers build out their credit scores by providing a credit line for online subscriptions like Spotify and Netflix, has added Mucker Labs as an investor and closed its seed round with $2 million in total commitments.

The Los Angeles startup founded by serial entrepreneur Joe Bayen, had been bootstrapped initially and then received funding from a clutch of core angel investors before signing a deal with Mucker earlier this month, according to Bayen.

Using the Marqeta platform, Grow Credit can extend a loan to customers to expand their subscription services. Using the MasterCard network for payments, and Marqeta’s tools to restrict payment access Grow offers credit facilities to its customers to pay for their monthly subscriptions. By using Grow Credit for those payments, users can improve their credit scores by as much as 61 points in a nine-month span, says Bayen.

The company doesn’t charge any fees for its loans, but users can upgrade their service. The initial tier is free for access to $15 of credit, once a user connects their bank account. For a $4.99 monthly fee, customers can get up to $50 of subscriptions covered by the service. For $9.99 that credit line increases to $150, Bayen said.

Increases to a users’ credit score can make a significant dent in their costs for things like lease agreements for cars, mortgages for houses, and better rates on other credit cards, said Bayen.

“Everything is cheaper, you can get access to a credit card with lower interest rates and better rewards.” he said. “We’re looking at ourselves as the single best route to getting access to an Apple card.”

Additional capital for the new round came from individual investors like DraftKings chief executive, Jason Robins, former National Football League hall of fame player Ronnie Lott, Sebastien Deguy, VP of 3D at Adobe, of Adobe and Mucker Labs.

Coming up, Grow Credit said it has a deal in the works with one very large consumer bank in the U.S. and will be launching the Android version of tis app in a few weeks.

 

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Space Force’ has a rough launch

“Space Force” is a new Netflix series that reunites Steve Carell and Greg Daniels, the star and creative force behind the American version of “The Office.” And there’s an amazing supporting cast along for the ride, including John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Jimmy O. Yang, Fred Willard, Lisa Kudrow and Jane Lynch.

But as we puzzle over on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, all of that only makes the show more disappointing. It’s not quite a disaster — “Space Force” is sporadically entertaining and funny, but never quite as entertaining or as funny as you might hope.

Part of the problem is the show’s attitude towards the Trump Administration’s Space Force. While you might expect “Space Force” to skewer the idea of militarizing space, it instead waffles between mild mockery and lukewarm enthusiasm — and in both cases, the organization depicted seems only distantly related to its real-world counterpart.

The show also suffers from centering on the normally delightful Carell’s shouty and grating performance as General Mark R. Naird, the fictional head of the Space Force. And there’s a broader sense that everything was little rushed, since the show was announced barely over a year ago, while Daniels was working on the (far superior) “Upload” for Amazon Prime Video.

Before we get into our review, we also (briefly) discuss our support for the ongoing protests responding to the death of George Floyd.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:26 Protest discussion
4:40 “Space Force” review
27:52 “Space Force” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: ‘The Lovebirds’ has charming leads and not much else

“The Lovebirds” was originally slated for a theatrical release, but with movie theaters closed, Paramount decided to release the film through Netflix instead.

But even without a global pandemic, a Netflix release was probably the right call. As we discuss latest episode of the Original Content podcast, this doesn’t feel like a movie that would have done well in theaters.

It is, to be clear, a funny and watchable, thanks in large part to the charming performances of Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as a couple who have hit a rough patch in their relationship — right as they’re also embroiled in a murder mystery. (There seems to be a whole subgenre of movies about couples who are inadvertantly caught up in crime stuff.)

The plot, on the other hand, is pretty thin, and it becomes even more perfunctory as the movie tries to wrap everything up at the end. That’s particularly disappointing since “The Lovebirds” reunites Nanjiani with his “Big Sick” director Michael Showalter — do not expect it to be as good as “The Big Sick,” or even close.

Before our review, we also discuss the launch of WarnerMedia’s HBO-and-more streaming service HBO Max.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:25 HBO Max discussion
10:51 “The Lovebirds” review
23:41 “The Lovebirds” spoiler discussion

Original Content podcast: The new ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ special is pointlessly interactive

In many ways, Netflix’s new “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” special “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” is a delight.

For fans of the show, it’s a chance to catch up with Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), Titus (Titus Burgess) and all their other friends/nemeses on the eve of Kimmy’s wedding to Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe).

Creators Robert Carlock and Tina Fey (along with a team of writers), deliver their usual barrage of delightful jokes, and even if you aren’t fully caught up, the special more-or-less stands on its own, pitting Kimmy against her old captor Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) as she searches for a hidden bunker of trapped girls.

And if this was just an hour of regular “Kimmy Schmidt,” your Original Content podcast hosts might have nothing but praise. instead, “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” adopts the same interactive format as the “Black Mirror” episode “Bandersnatch,” with viewers moving through a branching narrative based on their own choices.

The new special isn’t quite as maddening as “Bandersnatch,” — the underlying story is stronger, with fewer frustrating dead ends, and the writers play with the format in some fun ways. But it’s still hard to escape the feeling that the interactivity is mostly a pointless distraction.

Before we get to the review, we also discuss the news that HBO Max will be debut Zack Snyder’s legendary (or infamous) cut of “Justice League” and look at how reality TV has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:42 “Waco” listener response
3:24 “Justice League” discussion
14:04 Reality TV discussion
19:48 “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” review
35:22 “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” spoilers