Ego and CEO are 66 per cent the same

Silicon Valley episode five: Back to form

RECAP While Game of Thrones obsessives reveled in that series' fifth episode The Door (hold the door; poor guy), the true nerds were instead staring at a chair.

Not just any chair – the chair. The chair of Pied Piper's CEO and in it sat ... no one. Because Jack Barker had been jettisoned and now the boys at Silicon Valley were ready to ... well, do nothing much because they didn't have a CEO.

But don't worry, they figure it out. Sort of.

A strange thing seems to be happening to this satirical take on the real world Silicon Valley – the satire is being slowly ditched and it's moving to dramedy. HBO is trying to make us care about the fictional characters rather than roar at their cartoon antics.

That's a shame because the real Silicon Valley is a goldmine of material. The joy of this TV show has been to see the egomaniacal, ludicrous but occasionally brilliant tech industry skewered repeatedly and on industrial scale.

The first season took a hammer to startup culture; the second vomited all over the mad scramble that exists around a hot new company with real tech; and this third season was all set to poke establishment Silicon Valley in the ribs with an iron bar. And then jam it up its loquacious ass.

But the frenetic speed and one-liners and satirical pokes with sharp implements is dying down and being replaced with character arcs. There are still plenty of gags of course, but they are becoming increasingly character-specific.

There is an upside to this move toward drama: we get to see Thomas Middleditch act. He is increasingly inhabiting the body of the brilliant but uncertain leader of Pied Piper, Richard Hendricks.

Having learnt that the company is hemorrhaging money, Richard decides to take action and lead. But without a CEO he doesn't have the authority to act. Except without a CEO he is the next-highest ranking executive officer and so goddamnit he will fix this. It's still his company.

Suck at Zuck

So he sets out to fix things, starting with firing all the people who aren't doing any work – literally. As he arrives to address – and fire – the cavorting sales teams (not forgetting Chef Amy), he can see himself as a CEO. As the next Mark Zuckerberg.

And then he tries to fire them and they mock him. "Are you sure that you can fire us? Like, legally," asks Jan the Man (who isn't a man), more curious than anything else. Yes, I'm the CTO, he explains. "You're still CTO? Lori hasn't fired you yet?"

All the insecurity floods back in. "That's not what's happening – I'm not getting fired." But he's no longer sure. "I'm not fired, these guys aren't fired, you are fired. Everyone from this wall is fired," he flounces. "So... enjoy being fired," he says, petulant, before skulking away.

That same character study is in full effect during the clearly flagged but still enjoyable moment later when Richard mistakes a journalist for his VC company's PR woman and unloads all his anger and insecurity. It creates an instant story for her that is certain to ruin his chances of getting back in the CEO post.

When he realizes his horrendous error, he goes into a impotent panic that is all the better for being downplayed, mumbling and embarrassingly incoherent. It's great comic acting: if only he'd been given a few better lines, it could have been timeless.

The chair. The empty chair. Who goes there in that chair?

All's swell

But it all works out fine in the end. The team coalesces exactly back where they started: at the crappy incubator with a small team, very little money and a few slightly bigger and better screens.

To top it all off, having sold everything in the expensive and unnecessary Pied Piper offices in order to get the burn rate down to a normal level, Richard lands the CEO job and The Chair is brought in. Which he fits extremely uncomfortably into and almost immediately flips over, landing badly. At least the allegories are still there.

It's all good clean fun. But if Silicon Valley wants to ditch the satire and go with dramedy it needs to start hitting that genre's touch points.

It is working hard – too hard? – on creating greater rapport between the characters. But it needs pathos. Not to mention Athos and Aramis.

It's starting to feel inevitable that the show will become self-aware and feel obliged to include a female coder / love interest. A sop to the by-the-numbers twitterverse.

That would certainly pull it into the acceptable pantheon of comedies. Maybe they could also hire some old writers from Friends to get the energy back up. But it will also kill the thing that has made the show special: that it didn't care whether you liked it (except of course it secretly did). ®


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