Douche ex machina: "Silicon Valley" --and Pied Piper -- find their savior in the show's very own Sean Parker
Both Silicon Valley and its protagonists' startup Pied Piper may have found their savior -- and it arrived in a McLaren the color of a Flintstone Push-Up Pop, blaring Limp Bizkit's "Nookie."
At the end of last week's episode, Richard and the rest of the Pied Piper team faced one of two seemingly inevitable fates: Either the company could fight the baseless lawsuit brought against it by the Google-esque company Hooli and likely go bankrupt in the process, or sell the technology to the tech giant and receive hefty buyout checks, stock options, and cushy jobs.
But while I'm sure showrunner Mike Judge -- who also made Office Space -- would have little trouble spinning a hilarious show out of the day-to-day drudgeries of working for a massive conglomerate, killing off Pied Piper so early would be akin to Breaking Bad obliterating Walt in a meth lab explosion in the first season.
So as Richard approached Hooli's Mountain View office park, its depressingly sterile polygons suggesting a cold, corporate gravestone for the young CEO, he is cut off by that upsettingly orange sports car blasting rap metal like it's 1999. The purple-shirted driver leaps out of the car chest-hair-first to offer Richard a third way. Call it douche ex machina.
Meet Russ Hanneman, Silicon Valley's inevitable Sean Parker analogue. It's a little surprising that it took the writers this long to introduce a character mocking the notorious Napster cofounder and Facebook investor, considering he's -- rightly or not -- become one of the biggest targets of ridicule in all the Valley. But Hanneman comes not a moment too soon, offering Richard a $5 million check to keep building Pied Piper on his own, while conjuring some of the funniest lines and gags audiences have yet seen on Silicon Valley.
From the moment he accidentally scratches his own car with the rivets on his jeans, Hanneman -- played by Chris Diamantopoulos, who fans of the most recent season of Arrested Development will recognize as activist/ostrich farmer Marky Bark -- is a hilarious one-man amalgam of everything worth hating about the new tech gentry. That's true whether the hater is as anti-tech activist or a seasoned veteran of the Valley.
Hanneman is sexist and racist, telling Richard, "I got three nannies suing me right now, one of them for no reason," and greeting Dinesh, a Pakistani-American, by shouting, "What's up, al Qaeda?" Beyond these social grievances, Hanneman is a terrible businessman who got lucky and made $1.2 billion in three days for "putting radio on the Internet" twenty years ago. His net worth today, two decades later? $1.4 billion, which Richard tells him is the same rate of return he'd receive had he put that money in a Certificate of Deposit. "No one ever got laid putting money in the bank," Hanneman responds, making his priorities clear.
But hey, $5 million is $5 million, right? Who cares if it comes from a guy Dinesh describes as "the worst man in America"?
Apparently $5 million isn't $5 million... it's a fixed payment every two weeks that Pied Piper will receive "unless you fuck up too badly," Hanneman warns. Moreover, the flashy investor can and does dip into these checks at will to buy, say, 16 unneeded billboards for Pied Piper from an advertising company he owns. What's worse, Hanneman has taken to hanging out at Pied Piper's headquarters all day shouting expletives over the phone and inviting mysterious associates over to play video games. As promised, his approach is "hands-off" -- that is, until Richard utters that dirtiest of seven-letter words: Revenue.
"Why would you go after revenue?" Hanneman asks. "If you show revenue, people will always ask, 'How much,' and it will never be enough." He instead suggests that the company stay in a "pre-revenue" state, before asking the Pied Piper team if they know what ROI stands for. The group dutifully answers, "Return on Investment" before Hanneman corrects them:
"Radio On Internet," he says. "Did you put Radio on the Internet?"
In addition to delivering some of the show's funniest lines, Hanneman brings value to the show because there's now less for the desperately unfunny Erlich (T.J. Miller) to do. There are now two brash, offensive assholes at Pied Piper, and when audiences watch Hanneman steal Erlich's thunder they're in fact watching Diamantopoulos steal Miller's. Miller had all of a half a dozen lines in last night's episode, most of which were delivered sheepishly and forgettably. And with Miller relegated to the sidelines, it's no coincidence that last night's episode was also the funniest of the season and possibly of the series.
Hanneman's hilarious performance runs counter to one of the most common arguments used by fans of the show to defend Erlich, which basically comes down to: "He's obnoxious! You're not supposed to like him!" But as Hanneman shows -- as do a number of classic television assholes from Richie Aprile to Pete Campbell to Eric Cartman -- you can play an obnoxious, hatable goon and still have the audience love whenever you're on screen. On the contrary, nobody "loves to hate" Erlich. They just hate him.
The episode, written by Alec Berg, also gave a great deal of screen-time to Hooli CEO Gavin Belson, another one of the show's funniest and most spot-on performers. His subplot is a nod to legendary venture capitalist Tom Perkins who last year compared the treatment of billionaires in America to that of Jews during Nazi Germany. He quickly backpedals on his statement and tells a group of Jewish leaders, "In an effort to hardwire sensitivity into our corporate mind-space, I’m having a scale replica of the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem constructed right next to the bike shop.” Thereafter, one of his corporate lackeys approvingly says he came off as an "anti-anti-Semite."
And finally, "Bad Money" features a subtle and smart piece of commentary on how companies are built in Silicon Valley, and why the lack of hierarchies at these firms aren't always good things. Hanneman recommends that Richard hire 15 people each to assist Dinesh and Gilfoyle as the company scales. Even with the extra $5 million, however, Pied Piper lacks the cash to hire so many new employees, and the pair of co-CTOs are unwilling to accept any fewer than 12 employees each. Finally, Richard lays the hammer down and says they can have three each, a compromise to which both Dinesh and Gilfoyle quickly agree.
When Richard asks why they asked for 15 in the first place, Dinesh says, "Because we're negotiating against each other."
"No, we're not," Richard says. "We're on the same team. We want the same thing."
"Disagree," Dinesh says. "I just got you to give me three guys for a job I could easily do with two." Indeed, the open work relationships that have been a cornerstone of building companies in Silicon Valley since the days of Fairchild Semiconductor can often lead to internal jockeying for resources which in turn leads to inefficiencies.
With a script that plays up the show's most entertaining characters -- new and old -- while highlighting the dangers of taking cash from the worst actors in the Valley, "Bad Money" is one of the best episodes of Silicon Valley yet. It also unearths a villain that practically any viewer can rally against in Hanneman, who exemplifies the worst traits of both brogrammers and billionaires. In the parlance of the show's social media-addled audience, "More of this please."
[illustration by Brad Jonas]