In Praise of Zach Woods, The Quiet Genius of Silicon Valley

(Episode 3.08, "Bachman's Earning's Over-Ride")

TV Features Silicon Valley
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In Praise of Zach Woods, The Quiet Genius of Silicon Valley

Every week, critic Robert Ham breaks down the mechanics of a particularly excellent Silicon Valley scene, joke or character. This week, it’s all about “Jared.”

Back in 2013 when Silicon Valley was first announced to the world, the presence of co-creator Mike Judge felt like reason enough to tune into this HBO comedy. But then as they started dangling the names of the cast in front of us—a perfect motley crew of geeky standups and character actors—the excitement surrounding this show’s potential only grew larger.

For me, the name that thrilled me the most was Zach Woods. The UCB veteran had already staked a claim in my comedy-loving heart, thanks to the surreal bent he added to his brief stint on The Office and his appearances in The League and the political satire film In The Loop. His was always an odd presence, but a completely compelling one, using his dry monotone and wide open face to sell a persona that was entirely lovable and a little unnerving.

His stature has only grown through his work on Silicon Valley. Just as any sitcom does, the writers have decided to expand out the backgrounds and peccadillos of all their main characters, but they’ve been particularly “generous” to Jared (AKA Donald) through the nearly three seasons of this show. Last year, we learned of his strange habit of speaking fluent German in his sleep, and this season, we’ve heard all kinds of unsettling things about his childhood. The writers, though, are also writing for their actor, knowing that he can sell any line they throw at him. It doesn’t hurt, too, that Jared is the one most capable of wooing the ladies, as we saw a few episodes ago.

Like his character’s position on the Pied Piper team, Woods is the glue holding this ensemble together. He can be relied on to elevate every scene he’s in, as we saw in this week’s episode, “Bachman’s Earning’s Over-Ride,” both in his introduction of the garish jacket that he attempted to sell to the team, and in his fantastic reaction to Richard rash decision to put him on the board of directors. It’s that latter scene that shows off Woods’ prodigious talents. He plays it with the perfect amount of subtlety, by shielding his face from the rest of the team and sending his voice through several panicked and delighted pitches. Of course, this is what the loyal and devoted Jared has been hoping for all the while: a simple nod of approval and appreciation from his boss. And he plays it as part puppy dog and part supplicant, happy to get what little scraps his master tosses his way.

This speaks so well to what the UCB Theaters in L.A. and New York have been doing for the comedy world. They continue to graduate these highly talented and intelligent actors who know how to roll with a scene, but are also very aware of how to distinguish themselves while still remaining part of a team. We got both sides of that from Woods in last night’s episode. He was happy to serve as the team’s punching bag by wearing that atrocious jacket, and giddily expecting everyone else would rush to get one for themselves. But he was also happy to provide that live wire of ungrounded energy to help lighten the moment when Richard gets ready to separate the company from Erlich. Woods is the ultimate multi-tool player, even if that means happily looking like a complete tool.

Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. Follow him on Twitter.