Making the Case for ‘Silicon Valley’

Note: Over the next two weeks, the Awards Daily TV crew will be Making the Case to win for each nominee in the Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series categories in random order. We’ll be dropping one each day through the Emmy voting period. Share/retweet your favorites to build the buzz!

HBO’s Silicon Valley

Metacritic Score: 86
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Number of Nominations: 3
Major Nominations: Outstanding Comedy Series, Direction (“Sand Hill Shuffle”), Writing (“Two Days of the Condor”)

Looking at the number of nominations awarded to HBO’s Silicon Valley, you’d think the show stood no chance in Hell at winning. And maybe it doesn’t. Much like the characters within the show, Silicon Valley isn’t perfect. It’s a scrappy upstart of a show whose best moments rival that of the most acclaimed and awarded shows on television, but it also features lovable, forgivable imperfections that, in a weird way, endear the show to me more than most comedies I see. And, as often happens within the series itself, sometimes a miracle can happen, and the scrappy underdogs go all the way.

Silicon Valley Season Two continues the saga of the Pied Piper team, the aforementioned rag-tag team of developers who, by all rights, should be miserable failures. They have no experience in the business world. Their business model, despite governance by financiers and mentors, is tenuous at best. They fight a lot. Like, all the time. Yet, they are held together by the near-autistic intelligence of their leader, Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), and his revolutionary compression algorithm that shrinks massive amounts of data – both audio and video – to record levels and facilitates smooth data transfer. They are fighting Hooli, a Google-like entity, other more established start-ups, and effectively themselves as they seek to turn a profit on this idea.

The series shuffles along amiably at a leisurely pace which, if you love the characters as much as I do, ultimately doesn’t matter. The point of the show isn’t necessarily plot momentum – it’s a character-driven comedy whose individual parts are often more substantial than the overall sum. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be the sleekest comedy on television to be great. In fact, if it were expertly plotted and brutally efficient, then it would somehow feel like a cheat when compared to its easily distracted, pot-smoking, girl-crazy cast members. Looking back over the great second season, I’m more often reminded of hilariously inventive moments than I am of the overall plot structure. For example…

  • Richard and Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) learn of Peter Gregory’s death (Gregory, their former mentor played by Christopher Evan Welch who passed away during Season One filming) during a hilariously slow and drawn-out sequence. It lasts only a few minutes, but it’s some of the sharpest writing I’ve seen on television this year.
  • Bachman leads some lavishly insulting scenes during Pied Piper’s many venture capitalist presentations and the ensuing penance sequences when the tables turn.
  • Jared Dunn’s (Zach Woods) extended interview sequence in which the phrase “Are we to understand you did not ‘crush it’ in 2012?” is born unto the universe and settled directly in my heart forever. And, honestly, just any scene with the criminally underrated Zach Woods in it.
  • Pied Piper’s side venture with energy drink “Homicide” is a smarter sequence than you remember as it pitch perfectly nails an extreme sports-loving millennial’s business model and overall life philosophy. Emmy voters will never understand how true-to-life these sequences are.
  • Pied Piper visits a porn convention to insert their business model into the data-heavy porn industry. Sure, later, there’s a massive tech hole in the plot that would legitimately never happen in the real world, but that’s ok. The porn convention was hilarious – an easy joke, yes, but one that garnered many belly laughs here.
  • And, finally, the saga of Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti (Josh Brener) who, for reasons you have to see to fully grasp, rises the corporate ranks of Hooli without ever displaying an ounce of inventiveness, talent, or drive. His effortless saga serves as a fantastic companion piece to Richard’s try-anything approach to success. And it’s really, really funny. Particularly the sequence in which he spends hundreds of thousands of Hooli dollars on what effectively becomes a giant potato gun.

As you can see, the individual pieces of Silicon Valley are as endearing and accomplished as its shaggy-dog cast. And about that cast who has suffered two seasons now without a single acting nomination. Emmy voters, do you think these guys are really computer programmers? Do you think they’re just playing themselves? Hardly! Each actor gives a unique and fully realized comic performance that contributes to fellow cast members’ performances without becoming overly showy. Silicon Valley is perhaps THE show to use as the perfect same of why the Emmys need an Outstanding Cast award. Although I would argue that Miller, Woods, and Middleditch all merit serious Emmy consideration, they operate solely within the confines of the bonds formed by the tight-knit cast members, which also includes Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Amanda Crew, and Matt Ross . Take one away, and the whole thing falls apart. Yet, their comic rhythms are perfectly in tune and allow them to play off each other brilliantly.

Let that be the ultimate reason that Silicon Valley deserves to win Outstanding Comedy Series. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it’s urgent and timely. Yes, it’s intelligent and has something to say about the world we live in – so dominated by the tech industry that power plays are made every day with the average American blissfully unaware of how these moves will impact them years down the road. It takes the time-honored concept of the American workplace sitcom and brings it into the 21st century by layering modern technological complexities over its office politics. It just so happens that its office is a ranch-style house in the Valley. All of that aside, award Silicon Valley because it features one of the more deceptively hardest working casts on television today. It takes a great deal of effort to look that bumbling and yet still appear smart enough to make your own company thrive.

Perhaps Silicon Valley should be a little more polished and a little more narratively coherent. Personally, I wouldn’t write the show any other way. It’s perfectly imperfect as it is.

Note: No computers were harmed in the writing of this Making the Case piece.

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