The second season of HBO’s tech sitcom Silicon Valley began earlier this month, adding another gem to HBO’s brilliant Sunday lineup, which includes Game of Thrones, Veep, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The show’s eight-episode first season was strong, if a bit uneven, and creator Mike Judge and company look to build on this early promise, utilizing a talented cast and the satirical bite that Judge has come to be known for throughout his career.
The series revolves around coder Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and his group of friends/colleagues as they attempt to navigate their startup company, Pied Piper, through the dangerous, at times predatory, waters of Silicon Valley. Though the company’s CEO and a coding rockstar, Richard is about as cool as an Arizona summer; he vomits whenever slightly nerve racked and he stands with his shoulders lightly slumped, seemingly weighed down by all that awkwardness.
Surrounding Richard is a cast of supporting characters that constitute one of the strongest on television. There’s Erlich Bachmann (TJ Miller), cocksure and vulgar, who fancies himself the Steve Jobs to Richard’s Steve Wozniak. Also noteworthy is Jared Dunn (Zach Woods), who heads the company’s business development, yet seems to have never developed much in the way of social skills (“Were there gelatin shots?” he asks regarding a party that the rest of the guys forgot to invite him to).
But of all the supporting characters filling out the margins on Silicon Valley, it was Peter Gregory (in a pitch perfect performance from Christopher Evan Welch) who stood out among the rest during season one. As the brilliantly idiosyncratic venture capitalist that motivated Richard to build Pied Piper rather than sell it for millions, Peter Gregory brought to the series a mentor figure who was authoritative yet hilariously humanistic.
Tragically, however, Christopher Evan Welch passed away from lung cancer during the middle of production for season one. The series narrative chose to skirt around Welch’s death last season, placing his character offscreen for the season’s final episodes. This fix could only be temporary, however, and one of the biggest questions for the show heading into its second season was how it would deal with character moving forward.
The answer was provided early into season two’s first episode, as the show found a way to write off Peter Gregory with a joke as zany and irreverent as the character himself. And the void left in Peter’s wake gave the series a chance to add a new character into the mix while addressing one of its biggest season one criticisms: the lack of female characters. The addition of another female as Peter’s replacement brought the count of recurring women on the show to a whopping two.
And while this lack of a strong female presence is detrimental to the show’s diversity, it’s not wholly unrepresentative of Silicon Valley’s actual makeup, and ultimately, it is a satire of the region and its culture that the series aspires to. Yet, it is this very satirical nature that seems to be the area of the show that could be improved upon most heading into the second season. The pettiness and greed of the billion dollar tech giants are the butt of many a joke, to be sure; characters refer to the region as “the cradle of innovation,” an apt name for a place so teeming with babies.
But thus far in the show’s run, the cultural critiques have all been outward-facing, toward the institutional giants and megalomaniacs, without minding the ways in which Richard and Pied Piper are chasing and perpetuating the very culture they profess to reject. Early in the series, Richard tells his friends that he wants Pied Piper to be different than these other companies, yet we’ve seen how easily he himself has gotten caught up in the power and the sky-high valuations and the one-upmanship.
Perhaps this is what Mike Judge has in mind for the show long-term; that however hard Richard and co. try to resist the trappings of Silicon Valley, the conformity is inevitable and inescapable. If so, Silicon Valley will join a number of other great shows that portray the ultimate power of greater cultures and institutions over the individual (see: The Wire). But such speculation is too serious to fret about presently. For now, I’m content with watching Richard, Erlich, and the gang dick around as I laugh my ass off. As they demonstrated last season, in what was perhaps the greatest/smartest penis joke ever told on television, no one dicks around quite like them.