When the reach-around goes wrong. Or is that right?
Silicon Valley episode 4: leopard or gazelle?
Silicon Valley, HBO's satire on the eponymous tech haven, is at its best when it takes the brilliance and idealism of engineers and contorts them to fit the barmy business end of the industry.
And so it was with the latest episode. As predicted, the show rebounded from a drab third episode to dive straight back into the baffling world of compression technology. Baffling only from the social and business side of things of course.
The show is to be applauded for not trying too hard to be technical. Even though its advisors could jargon and engineer their way through a Palo Alto hackathon, the actual details of the revolutionary technology at the heart of the show are kept short and sweet.
Determined to do the absolute bare minimum on a box so they can build the platform they dream of, Pied Piper's team of misfits manage to leapfrog the competition and produce a box that put out 200Mbps by having a sudden brainwave: "Connect the parser directly to the compressor's c functions."
Why didn't we think of that?
There is something all too real however about the engineers bitching and moaning about having to "write BS sub-par code for 48 hours" just to get the job done but then being unable to phone it in and instead creating a product that both saves and ruins them.
As an early confrontation makes clear, the company needs them to actually produce the thing that everyone else is geared up to sell. But that doesn't mean they won't get the royal rectal treatment when it comes to contracts and boardroom decisions.
In between fighting the CEO and losing, saving his ass, and then being betrayed all over again, the show manages to jump into several amusing asides of Silicon Valley culture.
There is the hip Asian designer who sits CTO Richard down and presents him with picture of rainforests and volcanoes with a dance track in the background so they can "develop a shared aesthetic vocabulary".
When a box is just a box. Not a leopard, or a gazelle.
Richard is having none of it, prompting the question: if the box were an animal, what kind of animal would it be? Leopard? Butterfly? This is ludicrous of course. So ludicrous, that the team later gets sucked in despite themselves. A jaguar. A gazelle because gazelles "are synonymous with speed". "Fuck that. A cheetah's faster and it kills fucking gazelles. But I really don't fucking care."
Then there's Big Head, made ludicrously rich thanks to the egos and idiocy of corporate bods, accidentally building a dream incubator in his huge home because he was lonely.
Perhaps best is the guru of the big corporate CEO of Hooli who sees his influence wane - he's forced to confront the horror of a parking shuttle - and so plays off his boss' insecurity and paranoia to get himself back in, sparking a $250m ego-purchase.
Faced with corporate backbiting that again pulls the revolutionary tech down a plughole of low-level profit, the ego-mania of Silicon Valley again saves the day. Gavin Belsom just can't resist calling Pied Piper up to rub it in their faces, and so saves his competition from ignominy by over-paying for their main rival and introducing a price point into the equation.
For all its fun and its occasional biting satire, the show has not fully regained its crazed, seat-of-its pants feel from earlier seasons. A formula is starting to develop and as within the show itself, there is a sense of losing momentum.
There are two moments of true comic brilliance in this episode however. Richard accidentally slamming his face into his boss' desk at the very peak of his company-saving speech is one. The aggressive display of a bulldog on a conference chair ("riddled with joint pain, chronically flatulent") is the other.
Scene stealing show by the messed-up bulldog
By the end of this episode, Richard and the team are back building their tech, the CEO is out, and the game is on again.
But it's the same place we've been twice before. Silicon Valley's writers better find a new path to follow and run down it at great speed if they want to keep this show alive. Otherwise they face the real startup existence of seeing all their dreams and gains swept aside as the buzz moves elsewhere. ®