This Sunday: Silicon Valley, Season 2
Silicon Valley returns for its second season Sunday night (April 12) at 10pm, following the Game of Thrones return. With a cast featuring recent mental_floss cover model Kumail Nanjiani, the show has changed a bit from its first season, and given the circumstances (see below), it's all for the better. Tune in Sunday night after you've seen what's going on in Westeros, to catch what's up in Silicon Valley. Here's a trailer:
Tragedy + Time = Comedy
In early December, 2013, actor Christopher Evan Welch died after a three-year battle with cancer. If you watched the first season, you know him as an extremely important character—he's Peter Gregory, the nutty investor. If you saw Synecdoche, New York, you might remember him from the funeral monologue. He was also in The Master and a bunch of other stuff. It's incredibly sad to see just how good he was on Silicon Valley—he stole the show, even though his health only allowed him to shoot five episodes. Now he's gone.
The show had to deal with that. It is the first piece of news we get in the first episode, and is a shock for Pied Piper, the fictional startup company in the series. It's a credit to the writers that they proceeded to do two key things: linger on this death, giving it due screen time and emotional weight (in a half-hour comedy!); and to cast the excellent Suzanne Cryer (playing Laurie Bream), in his place.
Passing the Bechdel Test
I am pleased to report that Silicon Valley now passes the Bechdel Test, in episode one of season two.
For those of you who aren't aware, the test is very simple: We must see two named female characters speak to each other about anything other than a man. That's it. In season one, this didn't happen. Why? Maybe because there was only one female series regular (Amanda Crew playing Monica), or perhaps because Silicon Valley (the place and the show) are largely boys' clubs. But as Cryer arrives as a new series regular (in the same office as Crew), the show gets right down to business and puts those characters together in a room to have conversations about business.
Amusingly, the writers are completely aware that reviewers like me are looking for this test to be passed, so they write the women's dialogue to be almost exclusively about other men (the deceased Peter Gregory, the boys at Pied Piper, and so on), but they do manage to slip in actual, legit dialogue about their careers that means we can check the box and, just maybe, move on from this whole thing. Good job, Silicon Valley. Thank you for listening, and I'm looking forward to the next female season regular (hinted at in a Twitter Q&A).
Child-Men Behaving Badly
The bulk of early season two for Silicon Valley is, much like the first, about a bunch of child-men trying to navigate various business and personal challenges that are beyond their emotional abilities. This is, let's be frank, hilarious. Early on, the issue is how they'll get funding for their company, now that the money guy has died. Later, the key issue is how a bunch of guys who have trouble communicating and cooperating can run a company together. This is delicious, in part because I have seen startups firsthand, trying to get their acts together—albeit not with such amped-up-for-TV-comedy guys—but it's surprisingly true to life.
Mike Judge is really good at showing characters who can't express their feelings properly, or who are so repressed that they eventually explode. See, for instance, Milton in Office Space. Or almost every male character except Bobby in King of the Hill. King of the Hill is a terrific parallel, as the group of beer-drinkers communicates so much (and simultaneously so little) with their grunts, "yups," "dang 'ols," and "mm-hmms." Age them down by 20 years, give them some tech skills, put them in a highly competitive situation with money on the line, and you have these twenty-something guys in Silicon Valley. They're more articulate, but they still fail to express themselves maturely, because they are fundamentally immature. And that makes for great TV.
The key theme of the show, aside from these boys out of their depth, is the danger of participating in a culture you don't understand. In the first episode, it's all about investment—how much money should be invested in the company, how does that all work, what are the perils of gaining and losing money, who can be trusted, all that. But ultimately, Silicon Valley is about trying to fake it until you make it, I think we can all relate to that. If you enjoy often-crude humor, fine writing, and excellent acting (particularly from Cryer and Thomas Middleditch, who plays Richard Hendricks), this show is a treat to cap off your Sunday evening.
Where to Watch
The second season of Silicon Valley debuts on Sunday, April 12 at 10:00-10:30pm ET/PT, directly after the season debut of Game of Thrones. It's on HBO, and I'm going to watch it on HBO NOW, a service I've been wanting for a decade. Goodbye, cable! Hello, streaming! (Note: Apparently HBO NOW is limited at launch to Apple devices, with a focus on the Apple TV; it should roll out more broadly in a few months. If you have HBO GO or, you know, HBO on cable, that all works too.)