'Silicon Valley' recap: It's ripped from real life, but smacks of sitcom shtick
Remember the premiere of "Silicon Valley"? It was just April 21, so it's not as if you have to climb into the way back machine. Still, that first sharp-edged episode seems so far away after this week's episode, a faded memory of better, smarter times. It wasn't that this week's show was bad, per se. It followed traditional sitcom tropes, hit the expected marks, and fell neatly in step with any so-so sitcom you've seen on network TV. Too bad.
I knew it was a bad sign when the show began with Dinesh and Gilfoyle resorting to the kind of fighting little kids do when they lack the vocabulary and maturity to manage anything else. Freaked out about Erlich driving him and Gilfoyle to a dicey neighborhood in search of a graffiti artist named Chewy, Gilfoyle resorted to silliness -- unlocking the car doors, locking Dinesh out of the car, yanking on his ear like a 10-year-old younger brother -- to get under Dinesh's skin. What started a few weeks ago as rapid fire banter between these two has been reduced to the the dumb behavior that makes Mom turn the car around and go home.
There is a sharp critique to be made of how race is perceived in Silicon Valley and beyond, but it's not here. The story mostly revolves around Erlich's quest to get an edgy brand logo for Pied Piper out of Chewy, who agrees to the cash-only deal when he mistakenly guesses Dinesh is Latino. Wacky hijinks! Chewy delivers, but the artwork he produces on Erlich's garage door-- an image of Dinesh penetrating the Statue of Liberty -- isn't quite what anyone sane had in mind.
An awkward conversation results, and instead of making the obvious point -- "Hey, this is the stuff that leads to obscenity charges, and how do I fit it on a business card anyway?" -- Erlich mealy-mouths a do-over out of Chewy, who turns the Statue of Liberty's face into Erlich's. Of course, Chewy is screwing with Erlich, taking advantage of his white guilt and fear, but Erlich is so clueless as to his own motivations there's no room for this exchange to dig any deeper. Instead, we get a lame running joke. Erlich, afraid of offending Dinesh by telling him Chewy thought he was Mexican, offends Dinesh anyway. From then on, it's just a permutation of the same, with Erlich blundering from scene to scene, asking if he's being racist. "I'm not racist! I watch a lot of black porn, a lot!" Hysterical.
Also, when the police arrive (as we knew they would) to ask about the garage problem, Richard decides to eliminate the issue by lifting the door. Guess what? Erlich has a grow house in there. I'm not sure how Richard could be living in the house without Erlich at least once saying something about this, but who cares? It's funny, right? Right?
As if suddenly realizing how dimwitted the show has become, Jared starts buzzing around the house demanding order and structure, something that results in a flow chart and Dinesh and Gilfoyle competing against each other even as they fully realize Jared is manipulating them to do so. It's a logical scene, but not a smart one.
It's left to Richard to raise the level of dialogue and make the show about something other than a loose collection of Adam Sandler jokes. When Jared corners him about news that he's entered the company into a start-up contest, he shrugs it off. He did this before Peter Gregory ever got involved, so he'll just withdraw, no problem! Not so easy.
No, Gavin Belson hears about Pied Piper's inclusion in the contest before Richard can do anything, and it quickly becomes a case of two billionaires trying to one-up each other. As childish as Gilfoyle and Dinesh have been, it's at least an effective mirror of Gavin and Peter's pettiness. Belson decides to be the keynote speaker at the conference, where he will unveil Nucleus, his Pied Piper rip-off. Richard can't withdraw, because he has to show off Pied Piper in its completed glory. What was going to take many months now must be accomplished in eight weeks. At least Jared's stressed out for a reason.
A confrontation between Richard and Monica is perhaps the strongest scene this week, one in which she admits to him that her grand pep talk to work with Gregory might have been "playing him a little." Peter doesn't care about Richard, doesn't care about Pied Piper. It's all about winning over Gavin, about money over ideals. Monica cares, though, and in another show this might be the point at which these characters kiss. It isn't. Yes, Monica played Richard, but never in the sense of using her feminine wiles. Instead she tempted him with the possibilities of mentorship, of rubbing elbows with a great man, not her. I'm hoping that "Silicon Valley," which is so short on female roles (while some have argued that it's an accurate representation of Palo Alto, others have said it overlooks a growing number of female coders -- discuss amongst yourselves), stays true to this idea of a universe in which women serve no purpose unless they hook up.
While it might have sparkled more brightly in a better episode, the scene in which Peter and Gavin have an awkward meeting in the middle of a restaurant is, once again, notable because of Christopher Evan Welch (Peter). I know that I keep beating this drum, but to see so little of him in this episode was just another on a long list of disappointments.
Also of note were the technological challenges faced by Gavin when he tries to have a conversation with Big Head while in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The conversation starts with an impressive gizmo -- a TeleHuman creating a 3-D image of Gavin -- which finally breaks up even on the lowest tech cell phone. Along the way, there's the obscenity-laden screaming you expect from an overindulged bigwig, someone so far removed from the world of technology in which he once played a part he doesn't bother or likely know how to update his software, as the beleaguered tech guy suggests.
Monica, Richard, Gavin, Peter and Big Head's scenes almost make up for the dumb conclusion of Erlich's storyline. Terrified of painting over the garage door (someone might shoot him!), he instead gives it back to Chewy. Chewy, who feels sorry for the clueless white guy, then delivers a final attempt at a logo -- two neatly intertwined, lowercase Ps, the exact thing Erlich had been hoping to avoid. Chewy also sells the garage door for $500,000, which apparently never occurred to Erlich. Who buys the door? Gavin, of course, who proudly puts it on display at Hooli. It's a tidy bookend for an disappointingly tidy episode, one that was mostly predictable in all the wrong ways.
Do you think Pied Piper will beat Nucleus to market? Do you think Dinesh and Gilfoyle are acting like kids? What do you think of Peter and Gavin's battle?