Hello readers! If you’re reading this, it’s either because you love these Pop Discourse posts, or are a fan of Silicon Valley, or maybe you just didn’t feel like redditing or hitting up tumblr while busy not working at work or what have you. For that you have our unabashed thanks.
[bangishotyou would give you reddit gold if he could but the best he can do is mentally send you reddit silver. Or a potato. Don’t worry, the potato is not a lie. It’s an honest to goodness actual potato. Unless you live in Latvia; if you live in Latvia then you know “is no potato, is rock” and you know what comes after that. “Is no rock, is dream” because some Soviet took your rock. (As you might already be able to tell, bang spends too much time on reddit for that joke to come to him as easily as it once did.)]
Anyway, bangishotyou and I are here to give you our back and forth discourse on the show that we love and find absolutely hysterical: Silicon Valley.
For the sake of trying to cover everything we’re doing this with one main thing in mind, no season gets left behind. That’s right, we’re basing this entirely off our viewings of both the first and second season and we’re going to give you our thoughts on where we see the third going. As well as some of our respective insights into aspects of the show that non-viewers might not be aware of. So, spoiler alert and whatnot.
Silicon Valley. The source of innumerable technological revolutions. The nexus of power in the digital age; the land of dreams.
Silicon Valley. The HBO series that shows you just how many forces are working to crush those dreams.
Silicon Valley is a half-hour comedy series produced by HBO. It was co-created by Mike Judge, the mind behind Office Space and Idiocracy, among other things. Judge was an engineer in Silicon Valley in the late 1980s, so he knows whereof he speaks. Er...writes.
Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), a developer at a Google stand-in called Hooli, in developing some random music-related app, happens to create a game-changing compression algorithm. The head of Hooli, Gavin Belson (Mitch Ross), offers to buy him out, while another investor, Peter Gregory (the late Christopher Evan Welch), offers a more modest sum for a stake in a potential new company. Richard takes door #2 and starts his own company. He enlists the help of his roommates Dinesh Chugtai (Kumail Nanjiani) and Bertram Gilfoyle (Martin Starr). His landlord, Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller, who had the best lines in the Deadpool trailer), gets 10% stake in anything invented in his house - sorry, “Incubator” - so he is in the picture too. Richard also poaches a business guy from Hooli, Donald “Jared” Dunn (Zach Woods), to work the numbers. Dinesh and Gilfoyle are software engineers/architects. Together Richard, Erlich, Dinesh, Gilfoyle and Jared (and Peter Gregory) become...Pied Piper.
Season one focuses on Pied Piper getting off the ground, throwing various stumbling blocks in Richard’s way, culminating in a do-or-die demonstration at a tech competition. Season two focuses on Belson and Hooli attempting to claim Pied Piper as their intellectual property given that Richard was working there when he developed the algorithm. Meanwhile Pied Piper has to find a new funding source after Peter Gregory passes away and his firm drops Pied Piper. Their funding comes from a dapper gentleman named Russ Hanneman.
Murphy’s Law is the narrative mantra of this show (much like its sibling series, Veep). Richard and Pied Piper constantly have the rug cut out from under them, leaving the audience to root for them as underdogs while biting our nails hoping they can pull off whatever hail mary will keep them going for another episode.
At the same time, the show finds a lot of ways to poke fun at the tech industry, find humor in the interesting personalities associated with startups, and actually make some pretty great nerdy jokes.
Ok, Got It - Now Make With The Q&A!
Alright already! Let’s jump right in to the tough questions.
There’s been some criticism about the show from non-viewers concerning the mostly Caucasian casting. Do you feel it’s valid? Why or why not?
bangishotyou: I’m not going to say it’s invalid, at the same time I feel, and this is in regards to many aspects of the show mind you, that a lot of criticism is coming from people who haven’t watched it and have yet to realize this show is criticizing a lot of the culture that is inherent and problematic about Silicon Valley itself. So it’s valid, but it’s aimed at the wrong place and for the wrong reason. This show is very deliberate in everything about it and that’s something that’s highly overlooked by people criticizing it.
aerokel: The show is very self-aware. Take this scene from episode one:
Gavin Belson: It’s weird...they always travel in groups of five. These programmers, there’s always a tall skinny white guy, short skinny asian guy, fat guy with a ponytail, some crazy facial hair, and then, an East Indian guy. It’s like they trade guys until they all have the right group.
Fake East Indian Coach: You clearly have a great understanding of humanity.
The characters are the vehicle through which the show comments on things like the diversity in Silicon Valley, but they can only act as that voice if they have a place in SV. So I agree - the criticism aimed at the show is better aimed at SV. It’s yet another meta-commentary the show provides; it’s a feature, not a bug.
The show lacks a significant amount of female characters. Do you think that’s a problem? Or do you feel the few it has more than make up for the quantity?
bangishotyou: Honestly, I feel like it is and isn’t. I understand that there aren’t many women in the show and that’s a problem, at the same time I also realize it’s being deliberately done. There is a serious sexism problem in Silicon Valley itself, with women being harassed regularly (something I’ve noted myself many times), overlooked for promotions, flat out not hired simply because they’re women, etc etc etc. So the lack of women is itself a criticism of how things actually are in Silicon Valley. [aerokel: Yep, and the show creators get it.]
At the same time the women who are in the show, what few there are, more than make up for the quantity. I’ve stated before how much I enjoy the character of Carla and why. My favorite line of hers is best expressed by the following GIF.
That’s a genuine issue. She’s looked at from a hiring perspective by Jared as being perfect for the job and doubly so because she’s a female, to which she retorts what you see in that GIF.
aerokel: I agree with bang, and I appreciate that the female characters included on the show are successful - Monica works with two prominent VCs and later stays on as a board member, Carla is a highly skilled engineer, Laurie is a VC, hell, even Mochacino the stripper is an entrepreneur who gets her Square payment! They messed around a little with some romantic potential between Monica and Richard but it was slight, short-lived, and shut down pretty early on. So any prominent women characters they do have on the show are solely there because of business or technical reasons. Those are all positives.
But I also can’t escape the feeling that the show could buck the trend a little more. When they have added female characters, like Carla, they have mined new comedic material, and there’s probably more to utilize there. But more importantly, it’s never been more vital to show women in STEM careers as the hero of the story, rather than as side characters. The show does have female characters with power and agency, who affect the plot (like Laurie, the replacement for Peter Gregory who ditches Pied Piper, setting off a large portion of the season 2 plot), which is laudable. But no female character can claim victory for something technical, as the male characters do.
Would you consider yourself tech knowledgeable? If so, how has that affected your enjoyment of the show? If not, do you feel like you might be missing out on some aspects of the show?
bangishotyou: Have you paid attention to my posts on the Odeck? Heck yes I consider myself tech knowledgeable! I do I.T. work for a living! It’s definitely added to my enjoyment of the show. I’ve stated that I feel like 90% of the show’s jokes are aimed at the laymen, with the remaining 10% being aimed specifically at people like myself. When you see them they make you laugh because you can truly say, “I see what they did there.”
There’s a great example of something the average person would understand, but is also a big joke aimed at uber geeks who understand all the things being referenced.
But more specifically there’s this gem, which was seen momentarily, and which is the software Dinesh created to “accidentally” destroy Pied Piper’s code to keep Hooli from getting their hands on it.
That’s actual software I’ve personally used a number of times to wipe hard drives. I love it! It’s a joke that most people would miss but is an actual tool I’ve used quite a few times.
aerokel: I work in software, but not so much in the innovative consumer product realm. I do peripherally pay attention to the consumer product industry, so I have maybe a little more knowledge than a layperson (or, say, my parents). I do think it increases my enjoyment of the show. I get to laugh at a lot of the ridiculous SV culture jokes - like the stupid “Hooli is saving the world” inspirational videos - because I think it’s common for tech companies to throw out a lot of those generic catch phrases and vague mission statements that don’t really say anything. But I get to laugh/cry at all of the stupid awesome Hooli features like Hooli buses to work, free food, drinks, and toys everywhere...even the “bike meeting”, while ridiculous, is something I secretly wish I could do. Meanwhile I’ll just slink back to my windowless cubicle to mop up my tears and leave a little bit of my soul inside that 6’x6’ space.
One of my favorite moments of season two happened towards the end, when Pied Piper was about to get legally squashed/taken over by Hooli (or so Richard thought). Richard told them to delete everything so Hooli won’t actually get their algorithm. They tried to run the software, pictured by bang above, but it crashed, and Dinesh and Gilfoyle had an argument: Dinesh blamed Gilfoyle’s hardware, while Gilfoyle blamed Dinesh’s software for their failure to do what Richard asked. (Meanwhile, Richard was frantically trying to tell them not to do it, once he realized they won the case.) I don’t know, it just seemed really authentic to me, the question of who’s fault a problem is, and the fact that it could be hardware or software, and both guys are defensive about their piece. And then they look for a way to prove it was the other guy’s fault.
How does Silicon Valley reinforce and/or subvert nerd/geek stereotypes?
bangishotyou: Ugh, this question. It is one I’ve pondered since starting the show and it’s a damn good one. It does both.
It reinforces the nerd/geek stereotype by showing these guys as being your stereotypical geeks who do code. They’re awkward, they have difficulty meeting and talking to women, they discuss the randomest (and potentially most messed up) things in the geekiest ways possible, and so on and so forth.
At the same time it subverts tropes and stereotypes that other shows and movies have long since “established” as being the norm. These guys are good at what they do and they’re realistic about how they do so. I pointed out they use actual tools I personally use in a professional capacity. They’re not “hacking the Gibson”, which is as far removed from reality as can be. (Although the basic ideas and principles and “tools” involved in hacking the Gibson are all based in reality.) They also react as a normal person would to a number of situations, by dealing with it as best they can. And sometimes by overdoing things, as Richard did when taking a far too enthusiastic page from Erlich’s “insult them and they’ll love you” playbook.
aerokel: Every time Richard corrects someone’s terminology, I want to hug him. (Tectonic vs. teutonic, yin vs ying, etc.) Or when someone says an idiom or platitude and he starts to dissect why it isn’t accurate to the situation (and usually gets shut down before he can finish). Middleditch is somehow able to project, through the TV (or streaming device of your choice) and into your soul, the contradiction of knowing the correction is going to irritate or seem pointless to the audience, and despite that, still feeling compelled not to let the inaccuracy reverberate through the rest of time. [I realized after writing this tha
The show does include situations or jokes around typical nerd stereotypes like the guys not talking to girls, panic attacks, getting bullied, etc., but it always feels like the comedy is coming from the nerds’ point of view.
Example 1: Richard, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle are standing around at a toga party, and two beautiful women approach. They strike up conversation, and there’s a couple of shots of the guys to convey their feeling of “what, these women are actually interested in us??” - but the bubble bursts when the women reveal they have been paid to attend the party, start conversations, and act interested in the partygoers. But it’s not really played as a “sad” moment for the guys, there’s more a feeling of “oh, well, that explains it.” And after the bubble bursts, the guys aren’t interested in the women, because they have enough self-respect to not continue with the charade.
Example 2: Dinesh and Gilfoyle are standing at a party, and a woman approaches. They get competitive as they each try to one-up the other to pick up the woman, and end up arguing with each other while the woman backs away and moves on. They’re so wrapped up in their argument they don’t notice her leave. They’re oblivious while the audience is watching them ruin the opportunity. But instead of cutting away, the scene stays on the two guys, until they realize they drove her away. Just giving them that moment to acknowledge what they’ve done, rather than remain oblivious, makes it less of a stereotype, or maybe less disrespectful to the characters.
Is there another genre show out there on TV that can be compared to Silicon Valley? What similarities/differences can you see between the two? Which do you feel is more accurate in its portrayal of the quintessential geek characters and how so/why do you feel that way?
bangishotyou: I guess the best comparison would be the other big nerd show on television, The Big Bang Theory. The main similarity would be in regards to its focus, that being on nerds/geeks. Of course the difference is what sets it apart entirely from Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley doesn’t have you laughing at the stars of the show due to their weirdness; TBBT does. One criticism often seen in geekier circles is that TBBT is basically a show that would be better off being called “let’s point and laugh at the nerds”. I mean watch any actual episode and you’ll notice it right away, the jokes aren’t being done in any respectful sense. More often than not they’re coming at the expense of the characters, which bothers me to no end.
Of the two shows I’d say Silicon Valley is more accurate in its portrayal of geeks. Actually, not just geeks but people. I’d rather think of its cast as regular people. When you watch Richard have his moment of epiphany involving “middle out” during the tip-to-tip efficiency scene and then speak to himself (“I’m such an idiot”) and then rush off to get to work, that’s how those kinds of moments play out in reality. Who among us hasn’t done exactly that at one point in our lives? And then the rest of the guys eventually break down the door to check on him and see him hard at work and totally in the zone and they back out without disturbing him.
They do that because he’s on a roll. Moments like that happen in real life, you see someone in the zone and you let them be so they can keep going. That’s reality playing out before your very eyes and made all the more real because of the tangent the rest of the guys went on that led to the breakthrough. I have audio recordings of myself and friends having similar types of bullshit conversations.
It’s easier to note the realism of scenes as they play out in Silicon Valley than anything equivalent found in TBBT. The former just flows and unfolds as it would in every day life and most scenes in the latter often feel forced, which in a way they are because again that show is about laughing at the non-normal people just because “look at the weird guys”.
aerokel: I tend to go straight for the other half-hour “nerd” comedy, The Big Bang Theory, too. The common criticism of that show is that it is laughing at nerds, rather than with nerds. Some of the situations played for laughs have a “look at how weird that guy is! haha!” feel to them. (Such as this scene in which people literally point at laugh at the characters. Which fortunately is followed up by this scene, in which the guys feel human, and it feels as though the creators want you to sympathize with the characters.)
It’s kind of like the difference between sympathy and empathy. TBBT expects its viewers to have sympathy for the characters, but not empathy. (Why would you, viewer? You couldn’t possibly be a nerd!) Silicon Valley expects its audience to empathize with the characters.
Let’s take the example of the overthinking-something joke. We’ve already established that the Epic Dick Joke is epic. Erlich, Dinesh, Gilfoyle and Jared stand at a whiteboard hashing out Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency. (I think my favorite part is that they label the variables.)
Here’s an example from TBBT, in which Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard analyze Back to the Future timelines, also using a whiteboard. Watch the video and note the laugh tracks.
Can you see the difference? In SV, the comedy comes from the sheer earnest search for a mathematical solution to a ridiculous problem. It’s the low point of the season - Gavin Belson has just presented Hooli’s compression solution, which is just as good as Pied Piper’s, so it looks like Pied Piper is dead in the water. Yet the guys still find a problem to solve, because that’s what makes a good engineer. It’s who they are. In TBBT, the guys find a problem to solve, but the laughter comes at odd points; when Sheldon finds the correct grammar to express the temporal complexities of Back to the Future, it invokes laughter, not a sense of victory. And don’t forget that at the end of the scene Leonard expresses regret and shame at what they’ve done. TBBT punishes the characters for their actions. SV actually rewards the characters: Richard comes up with a new version of his algorithm and bests Gavin Belson thanks to the Tip-to-Tip Efficiency discussion. (Also, Richard, to whom any presentation formerly had him curling up on a bathroom floor, nauseated and blinded, presents the solution at the big conference.) The overanalytical minds of these guys is what made Pied Piper to begin with, and it’s what brings them victory.
In SV, there’s no one to point at the nerds and laugh; there isn’t an “outsider” point of view. That’s not where the comedy comes from. In TBBT, there’s always someone around to tell the nerds that they’re wrong or weird. And that’s a shame.
Is there any company in the real world that you feel can be compared to any scene within the show? Not necessarily Pied Piper or Hooli, although they’re fair game, but just any of the few mentioned? If so, what is the name of the company and what is the equivalent found in the show? How are they similar and/or different?
bangishotyou: There’s a few actually. Hooli in a way seems to be a combination of companies. Namely Google and Apple. When you look at their Hooli.XYZ scenes you can see the more obvious hints of Google and their Project X and other divisions in their. At the same time, you can kind of see hints of Apple via Gavin Belson and a slight Steve Jobs vibe on his part. There’s a memorable line he states at one point and I’m sure I’m not getting it down exactly but it goes, “I don’t want to live in a world where someone else is making the world a better place!” Steve Jobs was a visionary in some ways and not so much in others, but something about that line very much reminded me of him and what I would argue was his outlook on Apple and its products late in his life and after he’d brought Apple back from the brink of death.
aerokel: Yeah, there’s the obvious Hooli/Google connection. The show itself often brings up Jobs/Wozniak, and the implication is that Erlich is the Jobs (visionary) and Richard is the Woz (actual coder/developer of the technology), and thus Pied Piper is Apple. That’s all I’ve got.
How creepy is Jared’s night talking?
bangishotyou: It is absurdly creepy! I personally have witnessed rather alarming talking in one’s sleep from my brother and it was made all the weirder because I thought he was awake and asking him questions and he was responding (in his sleep!) to them. So I can’t imagine how alarming it was for Richard to be woken up in the middle of the night to Jared saying some rather unsettling things in German, made all the weirder given that the next morning when questioned about speaking the language Jared replied in the negative.
Here is what was stated and the translations.
“Nein, das ist was sie wollen. Aber wie können sie alle tot sein? Ich würde mich an ihn heranschleichen und ihm die Kehle aufschlitzen.”
“No that is what they want, but how can they all be dead? I would sneak up on him and cut his throat.”
“Nicht widerstehen! ich würde mich an ihn heranschleichen und ihm die Kehle aufschlitzen. Er würde mich nie kommen sehen.”
“Don’t resist! I would sneak up on him and cut his throat. He would never see me coming.”
“Stirb Mutti, stirb geh in den Käfig Schlampe (not 100% sure)!”
“Die mommy, die back to the cage slut!”
aerokel: Night talking is very creepy. In Jared, it’s delightful and endearing.
Where do you see the third season going?
bangishotyou: I’ve pondered this one on and off since the second season finale and honestly it’s kind of tough to say. There’s where I’d expect it to go, but it’s very likely things will not go as I expect as has happened in both previous seasons. Richard is no longer CEO, but he’s still a member of Pied Piper. I see him and the guys taking issue with that. I don’t know what they’ll do about it, but I’m sure they’re going to do something. Meanwhile, it’s likely that Gavin is going to face the music as well for all the shortcomings faced by Hooli that he personally pushed for. Except for him any ousting is going to wind up being very public given Hooli and his high profiles in the world of Silicon Valley. I kind of see Hooli’s board of directors pushing for licensing Pied Piper’s algorithm to use in their products, it makes sense financially. They’ve wasted a ton of resources coming up with essentially crap, meanwhile Pied Piper has been killing it with their algorithm. No sense in wasting additional resources of time, money, and people when they can just license what they need. Of course that’s going to likely not go over well with anyone at Pied Piper, but with Richard no longer at the helm and Raviga having more seats/votes that’s hardly going to matter.
I don’t know what’s going to happen come next season, but I’m game to watch regardless. It should be hilarious and also nerve wracking no matter what.
aerokel: Well, the good news is, Belson didn’t get Pied Piper, but the bad news is, neither did Richard, kinda. I think the third season is going to include Richard being completely flummoxed and frustrated at the direction the company takes, but it’s going to turn out to be successful. But by being successful, they remove much of the Richard-ness, and what does that say about Richard?
The real kicker would be if they actually try to make a deal with Hooli so they can use the compression algorithm to make Nucleus, their mobile platform, work. Meanwhile, Raviga tries to move them to a real facility and scale up the business, which starts turning them into Hooli. And they’re going to risk imploding because there’s such a demand for their algorithm, and they can’t keep up. Erlich of course is going to stick around but Laurie will probably try to control him or something...but the majesty of Erlich cannot be contained nor controlled.
Raviga will try to staff up and either put Dinesh and Gilfoyle in charge of people, or put someone else in charge of Dinesh and Gilfoyle. Either way it will not go well.
What’s your favorite/least favorite character, comedic moment, line, etc.? Most accurate/inaccurate part of the show?
aerokel: Obviously I love the Tip-to-Tip Efficiency sequence from season 1. In season 2, anything and everything embodied by the person of Russ Hanneman. His obsession with being in the “three comma club”.
His obsession with having a car with the proper billionaire doors.
His ability to read people.
Another favorite moment is the climax of season 2, when Richard is in court listening to the judge rule on the case of ownership of the algorithm. He thinks he’s going to lose, so he has the guys delete all of Pied Piper. But then the judge ends up ruling in Richard’s favor, so then it becomes a master class in dramatic tension as we wait to see if the guys really do delete everything, so they have to start from scratch, or if Richard can stop them before it’s too late. I was literally yelling at the tv, “No, don’t do it! Don’t delete it!!! Oh my god, they’re going to delete it and they’ll have to start over from nothing in season 3.”
bangishotyou: My favorite characters is an easy one. Dinesh and Gilfoyle. The chemistry those two have, as childish as it may be at times, is amazing to watch on screen. Seriously, watch those two interact. You can’t help but grin any single time they’re on screen together trading barbs at one another. Least favorite character is just as easy, Gavin. He’s such a jerk and the way he goes about trying to screw Pied Piper makes it very easy to hate him, to the point that when he’s finally about to get his you can’t help but feel a bit gipped. They don’t show what happens when the doors close in that final moment of the finale of season 2.
Obviously I have two favorite moments from the show. The tip-to-tip efficiency sequence, which is absolutely hysterical. That and “doors of a billionaire”. In both its glorious moments.
As far as inaccurate moments I don’t think I spotted any that truly stuck out to me. The show seems to for the most part be grounded in reality and that includes how the characters go about dealing with various situations.
Finally: Which Characters Would You Smooch, Hitch, Give a Knuckle Sandwich?
aerokel: I want to platonically kiss Jared. On the forehead. And then tuck him into bed.
I would marry Richard. Smart, hamstrung by his own neuroses, but he’s got the biggest heart.
I don’t think it’s any surprise that I want to punch Galvin Belson. Russ Hanneman is a close second, but he’s just kinda dumb, not actively terrible like Belson.
bangishotyou: Yeah, I’m not even gonna bother. Everything aerokel said applies for me too for the same exact reasons. Although I’d definitely add “give Jared a hug”, he’s an absolute sweetheart and I can’t help but feel bad about the way he’s occasionally treated on the show.
Thanks for reading! Have you seen Silicon Valley? Do you have any different takes on the questions above? Let there be discourse in the comments!