The pundits of the world are all ringing the same bell to proclaim that the tech industry is in the throes of another bubble, and it’s ready to burst at any minute. There’s an air of Chicken Little panic to that line of thinking, but there’s also a sharp ribbon of truth curling through it as well. Just ask the folks behind ridiculous startups like Phantom Entertainment or Blippy who earned millions of dollars in venture capital, only to completely shit the bed and disappear months later.
That’s one of the harshest bits of commentary running through each episode of Silicon Valley. Mike Judge and his writers are holding a mirror up to the insanity of the trillions of dollars being tossed around for unnecessary “innovations,” while something actually game-changing like Pied Piper’s algorithm isn’t able to get any traction. Yes, a lot of it has to do with the stumbling leadership at the helm of that organization, but this a comedy after all. We need a spray of seltzer to the face to help swallow the bitter pill.
Hence, the most bitingly dead-on scene in the first episode of Silicon Valley’s third season was as silly a notion as anything the show has put forth to date, but with a disturbing validity to it. Still stinging from being booted from his position as CEO of Pied Piper, Richard takes a job as CTO of Flutterbeam, a hot new startup. But as he sets forth on this new adventure, he realizes that he’s landed himself on a slowly sinking ship. The company’s cutting edge development is software that will livestream your face… and put a digital mustache on it.
On its own, that concept doesn’t seem entirely far-fetched. Particularly when you consider that it is very similar to what Snapchat offers its users. But everything about the tone and look of this scene reveals more and more the disconnect that a vast segment of the tech industry has with reality.
In many ways, it was reminiscent of the sitdown that Mark Baum and his crew have with the oily Florida mortgage brokers (played by Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen) in The Big Short. Leading the charge at Flutterbeam are two bros who rave about the fact that they raised “a shit ton of money” and “are growing fast as balls.” On the wall of their video room is a poster of James Dean. It wasn’t the socially awkward, Red Bull addicts like Richard, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle that ruined the tech industry in the early ‘00s, it was nitwits like these two Flutterbeam dudes who are racing to cash in on some half-assed idea before the bubble bursts a second time.
Unlike The Big Short, this show isn’t overtly trying to get us up in arms about the state of this world that would pour billions of dollars into apps and websites that are going to maximize profits for other companies. Or at least help distract the average consumer with bells and whistles so we don’t worry about how real world problems are being ignored as a result. We’re supposed to laugh at these buffoons and their absurd desires with the same energy we use listening to Erlich rattle off his premium senior citizen zingers at the new CEO of Pied Piper. But a scene like the one at Flutterbeam has that same sour taste that underscores most of Mike Judge’s post-Beavis & Butthead work. It’s that flavor that reminds us how far out of whack our priorities are, as a society. It’s pitch perfect gallows humor that lets us laugh as we watch things slowly crumble around us.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. Follow him on Twitter.