‘Silicon Valley’ of the Shadow of Death

Since 2014, Silicon Valley has masterfully parodied the tech industry with eerie uncanniness. Currently in its sixth and final season, for a show and creator known for supreme social commentary, they both certainly have their blind spots.

click to enlarge Thomas Middleditch as Richard Hendricks in "Silicon Valley" - Ali Paige Goldstein
Ali Paige Goldstein
Thomas Middleditch as Richard Hendricks in "Silicon Valley"

The opening scene of Silicon Valley’s (10 p.m. Sunday, HBO) sixth and final season is all too familiar: an awkward tech founder addresses congress about the implications of our interconnected world and the tools we use to navigate it. Days ahead of the comedy’s premiere, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg testified before the House Financial Services Committee, sharing plans for Facebook’s forthcoming Libra cryptocurrency and the company’s policies on monitoring content on the platform. In the fictional hearing, Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) uncharacteristically finds his stride describing a “new internet” called PiperNet — a decentralized one without foreign or monetary influence — something of, by and for the people. 

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Since 2014, Silicon Valley has masterfully parodied the tech industry with eerie uncanniness, particularly for folks in that field, all while highlighting the mind-numbing quirks of work that everyone can relate to. Considering this is coming from Mike Judge, the guy who brought us Office Space, that’s no surprise. 

Judge seems adept at predicting the future (not that we need any more discussion around America’s current sociopolitical parallels to his 2006 film Idiocracy) or at the very least assessing the present (Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill still stand up today). With Silicon Valley, he’s successfully satirized the startup world for even those who still don’t understand what blockchain is. (Guilty.)

Richard’s company, Pied Piper, and all the projects that have fallen under its umbrella have seemed doomed with each passing season. Just as failure seems imminent and everyone has accepted it as such, something or someone saves the day at the 11th hour, whether it’s new backers or a company pivot — even though, oftentimes, the characters would benefit most from pulling the plug. It’s these existential questions around success that balance the bevy of dick jokes in Silicon Valley.

Richard has had to make so many sacrifices surrounding his vision of PiperNet over the years that by the time he gets something off the ground, it will likely be unrecognizable to him. After his shockingly successful presentation on the national stage, Richard seems to be getting cocky with a high-and-mighty attitude. But when he starts to abandon what’s gotten him to this point, he finds himself unable to fulfill the wishful promises he’s now proclaimed to the world.

When Jared (Zach Woods), Pied Piper’s true moral compass and No. 1 cheerleader, leaves the company in search of something new, it becomes clear what a critical role he played. It turns out Richard has partnered with the enemy and PiperNet is already treading a dangerous path that includes privacy concerns, data mining and accepting literal blood money to fund its ventures.

Shake-ups and uncertainties abound for Pied Piper’s answer to Beavis and Butt-Head — Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) — as they notice more and more red flags for the company. Gilfoyle might have met his match in the new head of human resources, Tracy (Helen Hong) — I’m sensing a Roman/Gerri relationship à la Succession, but maybe I just really miss Succession. Meanwhile Dinesh is just extra ripped — but that’s thanks to Nanjiani’s increasingly frequent casting in action flicks (next up: Marvel’s Eternals). 

In case you hadn’t noticed, much like the world it represents, Silicon Valley often seems like a boys’ club with few significant female characters. Amanda Crew’s Monica has become a fine supporting character, working her way up to Pied Piper CFO and occasionally serving out laughs. (A recent chain-smoking scene really showed off her physical humor.) But she and other women are rarely given the material that stands up to even the smallest roles played by men. 

Maybe it’s the reports of an abusive atmosphere at the hands of T.J. Miller, who exited in the fourth season, that I can’t shake — or even the recent irksome Playboy interview with Middleditch — but for a show and creator known for supreme social commentary, they both certainly have their blind spots.

Contact Jac Kern: @jackern

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