The new HBO show “Silicon Valley” in its first season followed the lives of four people living under one roof in an incubator suburban house in the valley. Season one followed Richard, the inventor of the compression algorithm, his compatriot coders Guilfoyle and Dinesh, and their self-nominated representative, Erlich, through the ins and outs of getting a good idea off the ground.
Season one ends with the guys of Pied Piper wowing the crowd at the biggest conference in Silicon Valley, Tech Crunch. Did I mention it’s a comedy? The characters range from classic geek to extrovert on steroids, and the clash of big money, big ideas, and the need to “make the world a better place” made “Silicon Valley” season one really enjoyable. It was simple show reminiscent of co-creator Mike Judge’s “Office Space” in pacing and humor that made good use of the easily lampooned characters that inhabit the real Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley is at its best when it exposes the conflicts between innovation and the pretension of elite Californians who inhabit Silicon Valley. That premise is what makes it the most fun and subversive conservative show on television.
The Women of Silicon Valley
Judge has on the surface addressed some of “Silicon Valley’s” season two critics. His show had started facing questions about the lack of female representation in Silicon Valley. It wasn’t particularly apparent whether the criticism was aimed at the show “Silicon Valley,” or the actual Silicon Valley.
One gets the sense it didn’t really matter to the critics. Some folks demanded more women in the cast while critiquing how women were portrayed in season one. Some seemed to believe that instead of being a funny show that entertains people, the show should push female issues to prominence. The best article may have been one at Salon that claimed “The characters of HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’… do not care about the national dialogue around women in tech.”
That same article had to issue this correction: “Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Kumail Nanjiani is also an actor on ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ Salon deeply regrets the error.”
Setting aside the inability of Salon to differentiate between different actors of a certain race, that article has yet to correct that Monica is not an assistant but a board member of Pied Piper as well as Peter Gregory’s head of operations at Raviga Capital. But then it would be harder to make the case that the show doesn’t portray powerful women.
Let’s Actually Explore this Idea
Judge appears to be using season two to have a little fun with meeting critics’ demand to deal more directly with “the woman issue” in Silicon Valley because it fits perfectly with the already strong conflicts in that vector between messaging and reality.
Judge handles the unexpected death of the amazing Christopher Evan Walsh, who played Peter Gregory, by introducing a new female character. Gregory’s replacement at Raviga, the company funding Pied Piper, is a woman. Granted, a woman with much of the same social awkwardness as Gregory and a similar focus on the bottom line, but so far she has not demonstrated the same loathing for wasting time on an overpriced degree that made Gregory a hilarious mashup of Peter Thiel and a few other folks.
“Do you know what Peter Gregory is doing?… He’s offering $100k to people willing to skip or drop out of college to pursue their idea.”
“I don’t know what happened to that guy, but he really hates college.”
According to a Yahoo Finance interview with Judge and “Silicon Valley” producer Alec Berg: “Bream, an equally odd and lovable female version, was created just as chatter about gender in the real Silicon Valley grew louder, culminating last week in the completion of the Ellen Pao discrimination trial.
While the show’s creators say they didn’t fashion the character specifically out of that debate, they admitted they’d be “derelict in [their] duty” as satirists if they didn’t deal with the issue of women in tech. It sounds like there may be more where Laurie Bream came from throughout this season too.”
We Need the Best Person As Long as It’s a Woman
Episode four, “The Lady,” also did not disappoint when it came to Judge addressing his critics and tackling the issue of women in tech. Faced with having to recruit more programmers for Pied Piper, Richard and Jared, the head of business development, start to interview potential candidates. After deciding to pursue a male programmer who shares Jared’s name and is a confirmed cyborg (a hilarious bit on its own), Dinesh and Gilfoyle recommend Carla based on her background. Jared brightens immediately at the opportunity recruit a woman, which leads to some priceless dialogue on the topic.
Jared: There’s a distinct overrepresentation of men in this company. Look around. I think it would behoove us to hire a woman.
Gilfoyle: I disagree, OJ. We should hire the best person for the job, period.
Dinesh: And Carla is the best.
Jared: Right, let me rephrase, I think having a woman in the company is important, but hiring someone only because they are woman is bad. I would never compromise Pied Piper.
Richard: All right, but just to be clear, our top priority is to hire the most qualified person available.
Dinesh: But it would be better if that person was a woman, even though the woman part of that statement is irrelevant.
Jared: Exactly. It’s like we’re the Beatles and now we just need Yoko.
Dinesh: That’s the worst example you could have used.
Post-interview, Richard tells the crew, “She’s actually badass,” to which Gilfoyle concurs and Carla is welcomed on board. So the Pied Piper crew hires Carla because she’s the best person for the job. Carla in her interview said it best when Jared highlighted that she was a strong woman, by noting, “I’m not a woman engineer. I’m an engineer.”
Jared’s flummoxed response summarized perfectly the push to target a particular gender while ignoring gender: “We want to hire the best people that happen to be women, regardless of whether or not they are women. That part is irrelevant.”
Everyone’s Favorite Regulatory and Legal Environment
Carla ends up having some more fun at Jared’s expense by blending in all too well with Dinesh and Gilfoyle. She realizes that Jared is pushing a new “hostile work environment policy” on the team because she is there, and has some fun challenging him immediately on the limits of this policy. The jokes are funny, but the point isn’t missed that, as Pied Piper gets bigger, it will become less fun and more regulated because of the potential for lawsuits. Thankfully, one suspects Judge won’t make us face a Pied Piper that is as humorless as the real world’s modern regulatory environment would demand.
Episode five, “Server Space,” takes the absurdity of the regulatory state in Silicon Valley to a hilarious conclusion. The Pied Piper crew are faced with not being able to buy server space because their too-big-to-fail competitor has made it clear that no one who wants to work with Hooli can sell Pied Piper a byte. As the panic sets in that their idea is doomed if they can’t gain access to a server farm, Gilfoyle proposes they build their own server farm in the garage. The guys decide to forgo spending money on office space and pour it into building a server farm in the garage of the suburban home they share.
Granted, this keeps everyone together under one roof, which always makes the show better, but it serves a greater point when a neighbor discovers what they are doing. The neighbor threatens to report them to the city because of his long-standing grudge that Erlich doesn’t fit the neighborhood’s mostly family population. Once the Pied Piper crew discovers this neighbor is also in violation of city code for his illegal pet ferret, both parties realize it’s in their best interests to live and let live and not involve the city in their affairs.
Judge here doesn’t shy away from another contentious issue in Silicon Valley, which is gentrification and skyrocketing real-estate prices. Erlich’s neighbor is threatening to report them for the exact behavior that grew Apple, Google, and thousands of others from a garage-based idea to a billion-dollar company.
As Erlich says, “You’re always going on and on about how this is such a good neighborhood. Do you know why it’s such a good neighborhood? Do you know why your shitty house is worth 20 times what you paid for it in the 1970s? Because of people like us moving in and starting illegal businesses in our garage.”
Please Don’t Call Us Capitalists (Even Though We Are)
In episode four, “The Lady,” the show continues poking at the premise of the altruistic but “never” capitalistic Silicon Valley startup. It has Gavin Belson, CEO of Hooli, proclaiming to his staff: “I don’t want to live in a world where someone else is making the world a better place better than we do.”
In this moment, Belson’s trying to inspire them to beat Pied Piper with a new form of proprietary compression technology meant to, of course, make the world a better place. The desire to compete and win hasn’t left Silicon Valley, despite window dressing such as “Don’t Be Evil” or other absurd statements that belie an innate drive to win. There is no peace and understanding in the cutthroat world that is Silicon Valley. These are driven people, despite any language to dissuade you of that notion.
Whether its pointing out how absurd it is that everyone pretends to not be interested in making money, having Erlich comment that “Christianity is borderline illegal in Northern California” when fielding a pitch from a Christian app company, or highlighting how regulation is reducing the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley, Judge is taking a small microcosm and telling a bigger story about how whiners are stifling American innovation and competition.
Season two of Silicon Valley is hitting its stride in pitch-perfect parody while taking on the show’s critics so brilliantly they haven’t even realized Mike Judge has been crushing it for years.