HBO’s Silicon Valley, helmed by Alec Berg and Office Space creator Mike Judge, is in capable hands. But it’s also a show that at this point, is pretty clearly trying to have its cake and eat it too. By making fun of the typical gripes with the tech industry—it’s mostly white, women in power are scarce, piles of cash are essentially lit on fire left and right—the show is spot on with its satirical jabs and elaborate dick jokes. However, by consistently inviting tech’s big names like Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and Re/code Co-Executive Editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher to cameo, the real Silicon Valley is laughing along with the jokes, as opposed to feeling somewhat stupid.
This is admittedly a narrow tightrope to balance. There’s no serious need to skewer people who, on the whole, are simply assigning extreme importance and dollars to products that sometimes truly do change the way we live our lives. At the same time, isn’t that previous statement pretty boring, and shouldn’t a show that pokes fun at the people in that world piss them off a bit?
Disclaimer: I’m gainfully employed by a certain company called Facebook at the moment, and before that I worked for a startup called Quixey. Both are companies headquartered in the heart of the Bay Area, and I’m a white 24-year-old guy who probably couldn’t be more of a poster boy for what’s “ruining San Francisco” given its skyrocketing rent and alleged death of culture.
Having said that, it’s not difficult to admit the towering industry that’s made my adult life comfortable thus far deserves a little shade thrown at it. While it is full of great people, it’s also full of bloated egos, wasted time, and relentless hypocrisy. You know—like any ecosystem where there’s money.
Silicon Valley doesn’t shy away from these truths, but too often seems content to let its characters get sucked into the boring stereotypes they’re supposed to be skewering. Richard Hendriks, the awkward genius with an idea that could take down Goliath, has his social ineptitude highlighted again and again, with diminishing returns each time. As viewers, we understand the dude is nerdy and anxious ten minutes into the pilot, and no amount of awkward interactions with Monica or putdowns from more confident characters who don’t stutter is going to make that more interesting.
Richard’s supporting cast largely suffers in the same way—Jared joins him on the he’s-awkward-we-get-it train (and he’s basically identical to Zach Woods’ Gabe character on The Office), and Dinesh and Gilfoyle represent funny characters portrayed by very capable actors who do little more than bicker and try to one-up each other in the background. Erlich Bachman, full name spelled out because that’s truly the show’s best joke, is the only one whose hilariously vulgar, selfish demeanor truly benefits from repetition. It’s a pleasure to see T.J. Miller turn his meaningless gripes over spoons and other household items into hyperdrive, because we also know Erlich Bachman happens to be a talented negotiator and conversationalist. He’s absolutely not one-dimensional.
Recent episodes have improved upon this somewhat shallow state of things, possibly realizing that as funny as the dick jokes and bro humor can be, they won’t last for long. The show has worked better when Richard asserts himself and proves he isn’t one-dimensional himself, and it’d be great to see that continue.
To be fair, no one is expecting an impactful dramedy with Silicon Valley—it’s set up as a classic underdog tale, where Pied Piper will amusingly continue to bump into bigger problems the more successful it becomes. Introducing new characters and new employees into the fold should mix things up enough to keep the show interesting, but ultimately the best course of growth for the show would be to stop trying to have the best of both worlds when it comes to laughing at the faults of the tech industry from a safe distance. Be like Erlich Bachman and throw it all at the wall, then apologize later if you have to.