No offense, Woz, but home computers are going to be a passing fad, like… MTV.
— Dave (voice of Adam De La Pena)
The opening of Code Monkeys neatly demonstrates the show’s sensibility. Animated in the blocky, pixilated fashion of eight-bit arcade games, it features Jerry (voiced by Matt Mariska), a timid computer game programmer, falling out of his office window. Jerry’s fall gives us a floor-by-floor tour of his employer, GameAvision, his wacky coworkers flying by, offering little distraction from the show’s focus, the world of early ’80s computer games.
Code Monkeys‘ supposedly sardonic bent — G4’s press release claims it “skewers the golden age of videogames and technology” — obligates showing the era’s “dark side.” Indeed, the opening credits sequence concludes when Dave (Adam De La Pena) shouts, “I love you, whores!” Cutting satire, it’s not. Rather, the show wears its nostalgia on its sleeve, with some self-awareness and a barely conflicted sense of geek pride.
The first three episodes followed the narrative arc familiar from many a dot-com memoir. In the pilot, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak played himself, here the owner of GameAvision and benevolent, egalitarian leader of a workers’ utopia. He used a jetpack, rode a hoverboard, and outfitted the GameAvision offices with a “fun zone” and pool. To make major company decisions, he blew the Horn of Consensus, summoning all employees to vote. He was the perfect boss, allowing his two star programmers, Dave and Jerry, to work on whatever they like, whenever they like. (Dave’s project was a game called “Hobo Killer.”)
Of course, the good times couldn’t last forever, as the Woz decided to move on, pursuing his passion for personal computers. He sold GameAvision and founded a company called “Apple,” prompting Dave to wonder, “Who names their company after a fruit?” Code Monkeys frequently uses this kind of irony, as when Dave rallied his co-workers by asking, “Would David Lee Roth leave Van Halen? Would Morrissey leave the Smiths? Would George Michael leave Wham?” The success of this technique varies.
GameAvision’s new owner is Larrity (Andrew Sipes) — “Mister Larrity to you” — a crazed Texan who cares only about money. As his employees care only about games, their conflict fits the standard Silicon Valley story: caffeine-fueled upstarts innovate relentlessly, until the Man comes along and crushes the life out of them. Though only tangentially connected to reality, it’s a story with near-mythic resonance — call it the Apple vs. Microsoft dichotomy, or Luke vs. the Death Star. In Code Monkeys, the programmers considered joining their rival Bellecovision, a soulless cubicle farm where, as Dave puts it, “Awesomeness goes to die.” He persuaded hs fellows to return to GameAvision, trading the prospect of security and insurance, because, “GameAvision belongs to all of us. Not like this place. This place belongs to nobody.” Of course it does belong to somebody: the majority shareholder.
Still, Dave’s is a nice sentiment, and at a particular time and place it might have rung true. The early days at tech start-ups like Apple, Microsoft, and HP were famously innovative and democratic. But there was always an exploitative aspect to all of those “fun zones” and Nerf products. As Abe, a character in Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs noted:
The tech system feeds on bright, asocial kids from divorced backgrounds who
had pro-education parents. We ARE in a new industry; there aren’t really many
older poeple in it. We are on the vanguard of adolescence protraction.
As is common with Microsoft people I worked like a mental case throughout my
20s, and then hit this wall at 30 and went *SPLAT*.
That Code Monkeys never touches on this contradiction — revealing the tech industry as just as much Office Space as any other business — is unsurprising. Dave and Jerry are those protracted adolescents, chasing the same dream of revolution as the generation before them. In the second episode, GameAvision won the licensing rights to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, a bit of foreshadowing obvious to the Atari generation. The game flopped horribly, but Jarrity cleverly turned irate consumers against Bellecovision. Dave and Jerry emerged unscathed, but, in the next episode, resolved to leave GameAvision.
They founded a company called StonerVision, working out of Dave’s garage. It’d be another typical Silicon Valley story, except he’s also rented the giant mansion next door, complete with Zebra Room. Because he won’t work without his perks, Dave blows the pair’s venture capital. Protracted adolescence might be excusable in the pursuit of the next great technological innovation, but it has consequences.
By the fourth episode of Code Monkeys, the satire, never strong to begin with, dropped by the wayside, leaving only vulgar, “un-P.C.” humor and gratuitous allusions to classic videogames. It’s a missed opportunity, for the tech industry’s “protracted adolescence” has only grown more prevalent. The problem for Coupland’s Microserfs goes to the heart of Code Monkeys:
Conundrum: I can’t imagine not giving myself fully to a job… 100% of me… but if I DO, I’d never “have a life” (whatever that means). The problem is, who’d WANT to have a job that couldn’t absorb you 100%?? SEE?
It’s a problem that remains relevant for the G4 audience, those coveted 18-34-year-olds with plenty of disposable income and nostalgic for a time they never outgrew.