Brow Beat

Silicon Valley Keeps Missing Golden Opportunities for Tech World Satire    

The cast of Silicon Valley.

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If nothing else, the HBO series Silicon Valley is aptly named. The show, which began its second season on Sunday night, is indeed a canny portrait of Silicon Valley; it depicts the antics of dweeby startup guys and haughty venture capitalists—Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg even show up to host panels—with an impressive eye for detail. But in the first few episodes of Season 2, Silicon Valley doesn’t often capitalize on the chance to offer much of a critique.

“Rarely has a show had to do so little to find so much to mock,” wrote Slate’s Willa Paskin about Season 1. And this season, that is definitely still the case. Coming off their win at TechCrunch Disrupt, the founders of Pied Piper begin planning a Series A funding round. All the VC firms try to court them, throwing out offers up to $20 million on an $100 million valuation, all pretty realistic numbers. It’s sort of fascinating to see (even a fictionalized version of) the relationship between investors and inventors, and the limited options young founders have for seeking guidance and advice.

Silicon Valley is premised on the tech industry’s very real underdog mythos: From Richard’s clutch million-dollar idea at TechCrunch Disrupt (OK, $50,000 idea), to the narrative about fighting corporate giant Hooli, to the Pied Piper team’s social awkwardness with women, the show sets up familiar scenarios that are realistic and also help us root for the characters. But it’s unclear whether there is a meta component to these underdog stories—some sort of bigger commentary on the ways in which the Pied Piper employees (mostly white males) are not actually societally disadvantaged in the broader sense. The show certainly pokes fun at them, but it mostly just glorifies them: They may be weirdos, but their lives are pretty awesome.

The Ellen Pao gender discrimination trial is one of many recent stories currently advancing discussions about the treatment of women in Silicon Valley, so obviously that scrutiny should extend to Silicon Valley as well. The show’s most prominent female character is Monica, played by Amanda Crew, who serves as Pied Piper’s primary contact at the company’s favorite VC, Raviga Capital. In the second season, the firm gets a new managing partner named Laurie Bream (played by Suzanne Cryer), because Christopher Evan Welch, who played beloved VC character Peter Gregory, died toward the end of filming the first season in December 2013. It’s exciting to see two women at the top of Raviga Capital, but one of the first jokes about Bream is that she is uncannily similar to Gregory.

At least with Monica and Bream in place, though, there’s the potential for some substantial women-in-tech plotlines to develop. Creators Mike Judge and Alec Berg told Yahoo Finance that they would be “derelict in [their] duty” as satirists if they don’t include discussion about the challenges women face in Silicon Valley.

The funniest parts of Silicon Valley are some of the plot’s most over-the-top techno-foibles. You just have to cackle, or at least snort, when Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (played by Matt Ross) says, “I don’t know about you people, but I don’t want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do.” But when Belson creates a PR problem for Hooli by making anti-Semitic remarks at a conference, the scene is flat. It’s mirroring real high-profile incidents, but to someone who doesn’t follow Silicon Valley billionaire news this could easily just feel like a wacky isolated incident.

The best part of the new season might be when a rogue Sean Parker-esque VC makes Richard stuff a hot piece of $800 grilled meat in his mouth. Or it might be the fact that two of the Silicon Valley computer science advisors ended up creating a real file compression metric in the process of making one up for the show.

*Correction, April 14, 2015: This post originally misspelled Christopher Evan Welch’s last name.