Silicon Valley: “Sand Hill Shuffle”
(Episode 2.01)TV Reviews Silicon Valley
Entering into its second season, Silicon Valley’s creator Mike Judge had to wrestle with an unfortunate issue that few other showrunners do: how to deal with the death of a key cast member within the context of this fictional world. In this case, it was the untimely passing of Christopher Evan Welch, the character actor who perfectly embodied the social awkwardness and strange genius of tech billionaire Peter Gregory. Though they found a way to work around his death in the first season, they couldn’t repeat that with these new episodes.
Judge and his writers, to their credit, didn’t mince around the subject. Within the first 10 minutes of the first second season episode, they kill off Peter Gregory. And they do it in a fashion that I think Welch would have appreciated: he had a heart attack during a safari in Africa after being startled out of his tent by a gunshot. “He hadn’t run in a long time,” his faithful assistant Monica explains. “Maybe ever.” It was a great little joke about out-of-shape nerds, with just the right touch of black humor that helped put a bow on Welch’s amazing first season work.
Gregory’s death also made for a strong jumping off point for the show to explore the vagaries of venture capitalist funding. Since Pied Piper didn’t have anything on paper yet with Gregory’s company, they decide to test the waters with other investors to see how much money they can pick up. What they find is a lot of unwarranted game playing on the part of these potential stockholders. Even after being wined and dined on the field at AT&T Park by one firm, their partners hem and haw at the prospect of actually giving them cash. It’s only when Richard tells them off that they throw a great deal their way, because they were “negging” the Pied Piper team. (“It’s a manipulative sex strategy used by lonely chauvinists,” says Jared, an explanation that sounds even funnier coming via Zach Woods’ brilliant deadpan.)
So, Richard and Erlich use the next batch of meetings to throw that same negativity back at these folks, and by doing so, ratcheting up the amount of money they could potentially get. Once Gregory’s firm comes back around, led by the new and equally socially awkward managing partner Laurie Bream, their deal is the biggest of the bunch.
Here’s where Silicon Valley proves to be rather sneaky. This show is so wise to the ways of the tech culture, while remaining well outside of it, that their commentary on some of the bigger issues and hypocrisies of that world have some extra sting to them. They know that there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of tech firms that took a huge initial payday, only to find that they couldn’t make a big return on this investment, and ended up imploding when the money ran out and they couldn’t get more.
Luckily, Monica provided the voice of reason for Pied Piper, letting Richard know that the inflated offer from Laurie was only a competitive one and not a good reflection of what the company is actually worth. And luckily, Richard heeds her warning and insists on taking a smaller deal for his team. Not that that matters by the episode’s end as he also finds out that Gavin Belson is suing him, claiming that the idea for Pied Piper belongs to Hooli.
Another subtle little barb that writer Clay Tarver threw into this episode resounds with a huge amount of truth. As Belson is decrying the success of Pied Piper, he talks about how 92% of the world’s date was produced within the last two years. Though I can’t track down where he got that number from, the evidence is out there. According to a 2012 analysis, 100 terabytes of data is uploaded to Facebook per day, over 48 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute, and the amount of data created in 2020 will be 44 times greater than it was in 2009.
And you can only imagine what that data consists of: selfies, cat videos, poorly thought-out comments about the news of the day, reviews of TV shows, etc. Silicon Valley doesn’t offer up a solution to this issue, but places it dramatically on the table—just like Erlich did with his balls during one VC meeting. Just as he did with Idiocracy, Judge is offering up a pretty dire look at the future, to which many of us seem almost blind. He’s doing it through the lens of satire, but those little pointed remarks cut through each episode of this show like an icy breeze that we need to start addressing before we’re too far gone.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.