For starters, let me just say that I never had any interest in this show since it debuted in 2014. I can’t really pinpoint why, except to say it’s a show about (mostly) men in Silicon Valley (a place I know nothing about) and it debuted when I was pregnant with my daughter and too busy marathoning Frasier on Netflix. So I’m pretty sure I’m not the core audience for this show, but I do love watching comedy especially on HBO who has taken it to a whole new level with Veep and their 3 year long streak of winning the Emmy for Best Comedy. (I also only discovered Veep last year, this is what happens with the HBO app is buggy and the Netflix one is so much easier to login to, laziness sets in).
But after watching the entire series of Veep again this month, I was already in the HBO app so I wandered over to Silicon Valley and hit play. What struck me at first was how satirical the show is skewering all the supposed tech-titans who are “making the world a better place”. For laymen like you and I who don’t know Shannon code from “middle-out” we don’t get how your algorithm is going to change our life, and let’s face it, we don’t care. As long as my phone responds instantly when I click an icon, I’m happy. Mike Judge is the creator of Silicon Valley, most popular for Beavis and Butthead and movies like Office Space, Idoicracy and Extract. Despite growing up in the 90s I’ve never seen an episode of B&B, so my only knowledge of Judge was his movie career. I knew from Idiocracy that his views on computers making the world a better place were dubious to begin with. What we know is that computing is making people insanely rich in Silicon Valley and everyone is looking for some of that Silicon Valley money to rub off on them.
It’s well worn territory by The Big Bang Theory (nerds are people too!) and all the Comic-Con goers we are forced to have in our family. Being Nerdy isn’t as uncool as it was back in the 80’s when William Zabka was kicking ass. But make no mistake, these nerds take their tech very seriously. The lead character Richard Hendricks, played by Thomas Middleditch, starts out as the lovable nerd with the game changing idea and very early on his mentor and sometimes nemesis Erlich Bachman, played by TJ Miller, tells Richard, “You’re going to have to become an asshole [to survive Silicon Valley].” Richard is apprehensive about cutting his best friend Big Head from the team, even though he’s the first to admit he’s not a great coder and not really great at anything besides drinking his customary Big Gulp and falling ass backwards into money (the show’s very own Kramer). Richard wants to build a company on his own and makes the series defining decision in the pilot to go with the deal that gives him the most control and the least security. He won’t sell out to Hooli (surely modeled after Google) and it’s CEO Gavin Belson, charmingly played by Matt Ross. Richard wants to do it his way and naively thinks he can take his Pied Pipier to the top without becoming a megloamaniac like Belson.
In season 2, Gavin and Richard sit down at their secret meeting spot (the restaurant where all the men in Silicon Valley take their mistresses as to not get caught) and Gavin tries to acquire Pied Piper. Richard initially says not to his “giant, soulless corporation”. Sarcastically Gavin offers, “Once Pied Piper’s a billion dollar company, you’ll seek out your competitors and help them? Please.” Gavin can see how Richard is going to end up if he want’s to be successful because of his experience in Silicon Valley. But Richard can’t believe that he would ever stoop as low as Gavin, ever. As the series wears on, we start to see Richard become his own worst enemy. He becomes less likable and stops puking after every major announcement (a running gag in the early seasons). He even starts to like being the CEO including sitting in the special CEO chair. The ultimate character growth for Richard occurs in the most recent season where he yells at a fellow programmer to “Kiss My Piss” and does a spastic dance to make the point stick. Where is the lovable Richard who once saved Erlich from losing everything by offering him a job with Pied Piper in public relations? He’s gone. To paraphrase Jared, the biz development guy who defects from Hooli to follow Richard and his dream, “Silicon Valley chips away anything from Richard that wasn’t Richard the CEO and this is what you’re left with.”
Jared has given up presumably a great income and lifestyle to follow Richard into the Pied Piper fire and one could argue ends up suffering the most. Jared gets stuck alone on a tanker for 4 days, loses his apartment, sleeps in the garage with the vermin, and starts to see the cracks in Richards foundation much to his disappointment. He gets some of the series’ best lines talking about his “ghost-like features” and being called the “effeminate KD Lang”. Luckily, he has one thing going for him, he’s good with the ladies! (One of the best jokes of the series that takes several episodes to pay off, a testament to the great writing.)
The other character to suffer the most for Pied Piper is no doubt Erlich Bachman who was written off the show after the fourth season (according to HBO is was a mutual decision between Miller and the network). The show eeks forward in season 5 with a brief season of just 8 episodes (versus 10) but Erlich’s voice is certainly missed. Last we saw him, we was high on Opium and being left for dead by Gavin Belson in Tiber. A tragic end indeed, considering Miller was supposedly leaving the show because he himself had become too addicted to drugs and alcohol to show up on set and deliver. I found this choice heartless given that we all knew the reality to be, so maybe Judge and showrunner Alec Berg, are also “becoming assholes” ala Richard.
The strength of the show seems to be it’s ensemble, which is why despite Miller’s leaving, the show can go on and still be Emmy nominated. The Pied Piper team is rounded out by coders Guilfoyle and Dinesh, who are constantly in a petty argument about money/women/coding and everything in between. Monica Hall provides the voice of reason through the series, and Laurie Bream pops in as their VC after the death of Peter Gregory in season 2. The guest stars are equally exciting especially Stephen Tobolowsky, Jimmy O. Yang, Chris Diamantoupolis and Bernard White as spiritual advisor Denpok. Similar to Veep, this show thrives when it’s weaving a plot so complex that I’m forced to go back and watch scenes to get exactly what’s going on. They’re one step ahead of Hooli and one-step ahead of the audience which makes for a fun ride. The pace of the show is not quite “Ludicrous Speed” but it’s definitely Tesla worthy. In the course of 5 seasons, we see Pied Piper start, stop, launch, fail, pivot and re-brand. We’re not in the television comedy world of Cheers where it took Sam and Diane 5 years to get to the altar; we’re in the new millennium where tech companies can go from Hot to Not as fast as you can say MySpace, Friendster and Foursquare. The open credits give some insight into the fickleness of the industry and the consumers as Uber and Lyft balloons fight for top space.
Silicon Valley won’t have to fight too hard for top space in my DVR when it returns next year. I’m looking forward to watching a season unfold in real time and to see what the gang can cook up in season 6 with Richard’s new found CEO-ness and their bitcoin rip-off Pied PiperCoin starting to take off. One thing we know for sure is they will still be looking to change the world and make it a better place, one algorithm at a time.