In its second season, Mike Judge and Alec Berg’s Silicon Valley just keeps getting better, as it follows tech genius Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) as he gets his data compression startup off the ground. At first the show’s premise may sound like a glance inside an insular world, but Silicon Valley is the broadest comedy on HBO in the best sense of the term. It includes just enough work lingo to keep it realistic but cuts it with plenty of creatively dirty jokes, so even a luddite could follow.
Season one ended with a throwaway line that Pied Piper could get sued and now well into its second season, Silicon Valley’s resident golden boy tech genius still has plenty to stress-puke about. But who cares about plot when you’re watching a comedy? What makes it funny? (Mild spoilers ahead. Chill.)
If the tech world has ever sounded like a mish mash of unnecessary verbiage and complete manipulation of what words actually mean, then you’ll appreciate Silicon Valley’s satire of the information industry. They mock that world’s double-speak and inflated sense of importance. (It’s amazing how many times they reuse the “we’re saving the world” sentiment and have it still feel different and original every time.) In a world that’s great at writing code, but not great at using language, the best thing about Silicon Valley’s writing is that the mockery is clear even when you don’t know what a VC is. Then there’s the swipes at pointless tech, like Dinesh’s cousin who’s raising money for an app called “Bro.” It works like the Yo app, only it sends the douchier half-word.
The only thing better than Silicon Valley’s satire of the tech industry itself is its skewering of the cluelessly super rich—and there’s certainly no shortage of them here. Pied Piper’s primary nemesis, Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), talks out both sides of his mouth claiming to value forgiveness even as he sues Pied Piper. He has a spiritual advisor paid to tell him he’s doing everything right and later compares the plight of billionaires to the persecution of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. Just before that, he earnestly utters the phrase “Billionaires are people, too.” But the show doesn’t stop with Belson. Even Pied Piper’s possible savior, Russ Hanneman, is an entirely different species of dumb billionaire. He drives a super expensive car in a color that can only be described as “Tangerine Dream,” has calf implants, and says things like, “I’ve got three nannies suing me right now. One of them for no reason.”
The Pied Piper guys, though, are endearing nerds even as they play at being assholes. They’re each other’s only real friends, hate going to parties and interacting with other people, but they still never stop faux insulting each other. Most heartening, though, is watching Richard actually win when he gets frustrated enough to stick up for himself.
When the show’s very first trailer was released (and later when it actually aired), it was criticized for the lack of female engineers. Monica (Amanda Crew), the assistant to Pied Piper’s original funder Peter Gregory, was the only woman on the show as a regular character, and she generally played the sane, reasonable straight man. But this season has seen the addition of Suzanne Cryer as Laurie Bream, who was brought in as Peter Gregory’s replacement at Raviga Capital. (Sadly, Christopher Evan Welch, who portrayed Peter Gregory, passed away while filming season one. Season two began with Gregory’s passing in a way that was both hilarious and a tribute to Welch’s immense talent.) Cryer’s Laurie is stilted and robotic and cuts straight to business in a ridiculously clueless manner. At one point, she tells Monica the best way to deliver bad news is to look someone in the eye say it with warmth—all while shifting her distracted glance between her cell phone and her computer screen.
And the door seems to be opening for more female characters. Silicon Valley’s next episode is titled “The Lady,” and centers on the possibility of Pied Piper’s first female hire and the resulting conflict. Will this be their meta commentary on the pressure to add women characters or will it stick strictly to the subject of women in the tech world?
Close to ten years ago now, I used to go watch the improvised movie at the Upright Citizens Brigade’s New York theater. One of the stand out players in that show was Zach Woods. He was noticeable in part because, yes, he’s very tall, but more importantly, he had an incredible ability to be funny with zero snark. That’s not unusual among improvisers, but Woods took it to the next level and this shows in his TV work, as well. On Silicon Valley, Woods plays Jared Dunn, the head of business development for Pied Piper, and in many ways, resident den mother. Jared is always looking out for Richard’s well-being (“How are you feeling? Do you need protein?”), and most of the time, he’s the character that’s just excited to have a crew of guys to be his buddies, whether or not they actually act like they appreciate him. Woods has an underplayed thrown-away delivery that makes every line he says sound like his heart is breaking. Best of all, when something is sexist, 90% of the time it’s Jared pointing it out: “[Negging] is a manipulative sex strategy used by lonely chauvinists.”
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Splitsider, Bitch, Rookie Mag, and The Hairpin.