For better or worse, HBO’s tech industry comedy is sticking to its formula.
In “The Uptick”, Richard Hendricks faces what is arguably his biggest obstacle to date: Should he commit fraud in order to save the Pied Piper? Or tell the truth and risk losing his middle-out compression solution data storage empire that could someday be worth billions? Such is the life of a modern day tech company CEO (or whatever it is that Richard is these days). It’s been a rough season for Pied Piper, to say the least. Yet despite its ups and downs, this feels like the Silicon Valley’s most tepid and formulaic to date.
Like many of the tech giants in the show’s opening credits, Richard and his Pied Piper crew have had to pivot with every obstacle that has faced them. In Season One, they had to prove themselves before Raviga founder Peter Gregory and later the tech community at TechCrunch Disrupt. Season Two brought dramatic clashes with the indomitable Russ Hanneman (“This guy f***s!”) and challenges with the IP lawsuit from competitor Hooli and its chief-innovation-officer-slash-ultimate-tech-villain Gavin Belson. In this third installment, Richard’s company is on the rise and their biggest battles were largely internal, focusing on the company’s growing pains. It proved more chaotic than dramatic, but perhaps that’s the point.
The finale had its peak moments including a prime example of Erlich Bachman proving his chops as Pied Piper’s newly installed Chief Evangelism Officer. His climactic explanation on how he used FOMO to create a bidding war amongst venture capitalists is Bachmanity Insanity at its best, and he ends with a revelation of an offer of $6 million dollars in Series B funding. “And it’s all because of this little uptick!” Bachman says, referring to the uptick in daily users secretly purchased by Jared from a clickfarm in Bangladesh.
This brings us back to the opening question: What Would Richard Do? He knows about the fake uptick and ultimately chooses not to commit fraud to save the company, but the episode pokes fun at his pain through Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s encouragement of the fraud in a laughable coded exchange, and Jared’s pasty stare of guilt through the window. Richard’s brush with fraud leads to Raviga’s vote to force a sale of the company to a “contemptible” buyer. Richard, broken and basically over it, ultimately approves of the sale, knowing full well that this buyer could be his tech nemesis Gavin Belson. But through a series of plot pivots including a dead elephant and a disgruntled Hooli employee, the buyer turns out to be none other than Bachmanity, LLC. Richard and his merry crew are now back in control of their destiny, at least for the remainder of the season.
The finale had much of show’s quintessential dry wit and ridiculously off the wall humor, but there were certain moments that called for some light head scratching, including Evan’s profession of his love for Monica – at a board meeting no less – and disgruntled employee Patrice’s discovery of the Code Rag tip line on the desktop image of what looked to be the Hooli security office.
There was also a lot of miscommunication this season, from the confusion on who Pied Piper’s “contemptible” buyer was and who knew what about Erlich selling his shares. Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) was a fantastic villain in the earlier part of the season, and the Haversack ruse could have been an exciting arc. The fact that the ruse was foiled before it even got its footing was a surprise twist in itself, but it could have been fun to watch the guys engineer their dream project under the guise of doing Barker’s boring box work.
Silicon Valley may have one of the most diverse overall casts of most primetime shows, it still succumbs to stereotypes and misrepresentation. Monica, for example, has proved to be one tough and smart cookie, but in this season she “doesn’t get” Pied Piper, and, apparently, that’s okay. If she had fought to keep the company within Raviga’s portfolio, one would think she might have learned about the product a bit more and if she didn’t “get it” perhaps she could have talked to Richard about this in the first place.
Then there’s Dinesh, one of the funniest characters in the show, who in this season was relegated the butt of two simple jokes: 1) As the guy who couldn’t get a date in real life so he made a video chat app to meet girls online and 2) As the guy who bought himself a ridiculous gold chain. Alright, so #2 was pretty ridiculous, and #1 actually led him to discover what would lead to a potential pivot for Pied Piper’s product, but the guy was treated like a sidekick’s sidekick throughout the season. Gilfoyle is just as ridiculous and even straight up mean as Dinesh, but he is treated like a rockstar even at his silliest moment donning a questionable-looking Pied Pier jacket. There’s also Jian-Yang, who delivers some of the most random yet funniest quips on the show, but is still consigned to the background.
Silicon Valley does not have to be a progressive show to be funny. Jian-Yang doesn’t need a spin-off series either. But if the show’s creators want to continue to make fun of the tech world, it should at least represent it for what it really is. There are a lot of Asians in the tech industry, and it wouldn’t hurt to give some more substantial screen time on the show. And the stakes should be raised higher next season. We want to see Pied Piper rise to the top somehow, even if they have to come back down to earth at some point. There’s only so much more this show can do with middling out and compression. Maybe next season is all about vid chat, maybe it’s something else. Perhaps we’ll know best when Pied Piper makes some internal changes following the Raviga sale (hire Monica, please?) and Erlich gets back from his Steve Jobs-inspired trip to India.