HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” which wrapped up its first season in June, was one of the most frustrating television shows in recent memory. On one hand, it perfectly captured many of the details and vocabulary of Bay Area technology types, which in and of itself is a tiny miracle — from “Social Network” to “Hackers,” Hollywood’s version of techies almost never resembles the truth (at least “Hackers” had the decency to know it was ridiculous). On the other hand, the show punted on some of the biggest social issues facing Silicon Valley, namely, the tech scene’s gender imbalances and the abject poverty that lies in the shadow of some of the region’s biggest, richest firms.
Some critics came to the writers’ defense on these points, writing that by marginalizing anything and anybody who don’t fall into the young, male, mostly white coders’ spectrum of experience, the show deepens our understanding of just how limited these men’s worldviews are. In some episodes, however, the show moves beyond mere marginalization into outright ridicule — the only female developer the viewer sees is a hapless young woman who relies on the vastly superior coding talents of the male leads to build her cupcake app (seriously). And while the only female lead, the VC staffer Monica, is enormously intelligent and good at her job, she functions alternately as a mother figure and a sex object, existing only to engage with the insecurities of Pied Piper’s male CEO Richard.
But according to a Twitter chat yesterday hosted by the show’s creator Mike Judge and actors Thomas Middleditch and Kumail Nanjiani, “Silicon Valley” may look to correct this gender imbalance in Season 2, which will debut in April 2015 — Judge says that he’s written two new female main characters into the script “so far.”
That in itself may not be significant — after all, the new characters could very well be little more than cupcake app coders or supportive love interests. But here’s hoping that the writers can conjure up a smart female developer or entrepreneur who can go toe-to-toe with the show’s boy geniuses. It shouldn’t be that hard to do: It’s not like they’re lacking for real world examples.
One of the most common complaints I heard from readers when I reviewed Season 1 for Pando was that I was too hard on the show for not better engaging with the socioeconomic issues facing the Valley. “It’s just a comedy,” people would write.
First off, comedies can be just as effective vehicles for social commentary as dramas and documentaries. (Dr. Strangelove, anyone?) Second, from “Office Space” to “Idiocracy,” dick jokes and smart satire have always coexisted in the work of Mike Judge. Furthermore, if you’re making a show about Silicon Valley in 2014, at a time when unprecedented amounts of capital and power have been concentrated in that region, you’ll miss a huge opportunity, both in terms of analysis and humor, by not discussing some of the more serious issues in tech. (That’s something HBO’s “Veep” did an incredible job of in its Silicon Valley episode). And finally, I hate to say it, but even if “Silicon Valley” was content to focus its efforts on dick jokes and bro humor, the show simply isn’t funny enough to stand on that leg alone.
The good news about “Silicon Valley” is, even when it’s bad, its popularity and verisimilitude make it a perfect jumping-off point to discuss both the magic and the absurdity of building a tech company in 2014. Once again, we’ll be recapping every episode here at Pando. Hopefully next season the show will morph from a flawed yet fascinating conversation piece into the trenchant takedown of Silicon Valley bullshit the world needs.