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Satire Is a Key Feature in 'Silicon Valley' Season 2

Silicon Valley's relentless skewering of the Bay Area's well-known tech valley continues as Pied Piper faces new challenges.


Silicon Valley: The Complete Second Season

Distributor: HBO Home Entertainment
Cast: Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Josh Brener, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Amanda Crew, Zach Woods, Matt Ross, Suzanne Cryer
TV show: Silicon Valley
Network: HBO
US release date: 2016-04-19

The brilliance of any great satire is the way in which it skews reality just enough that it can exaggerate the foibles of its subject matter while leaving viewers satisfied that its setting could actually exist. That quality is what makes Mike Judge's HBO series Silicon Valley a perfect funhouse mirror reflection of a place where people can receive a few million bucks just by pitching an idea for an app. (Admittedly, what comes next isn't easy.)

The show probably wouldn't have been successful had it debuted during the dot-com boom of the late '90s, when most people were still trying to figure out the Internet. Now that being online has become a ubiquitous part of nearly everyone's lives (certainly in the "first world" countries, anyway), it's much easier for casual viewers to grok the techie-oriented jokes, even if some of the more "inside baseball" subject matter, such as pitching to venture capitalists, might fly over their heads. Those who haven't seen the show shouldn't worry, because there's plenty of broad humor, too.

Satire is also at its best when populated by archetypes, and Silicon Valley obliges here too, starting with the main character, a painfully shy engineer named Richard Hendricks who stumbles across a technological breakthrough that allows him to quit his job with monolithic employer Hooli (an obvious stand-in for Google, with a bit of Apple mixed in) and kick his startup, Pied Piper, into full gear. He runs his business through a home-based incubator run by slovenly entrepreneur Erlich Bachman, who embodies the worst self-absorbed traits found in the valley.

Hendricks is accompanied by another Hooli employee, Donald "Jared" Dunn, who serves as the Pied Piper CFO and business advisor, as well as amoral libertarian programmer Bertram Gilfoyle, who can be counted on to undercut any situation with his sarcastic wit, and Dinesh Chugtai, a programmer from Pakistan who thankfully does not speak with an accent.

Chugtai and Gilfoyle clash quite often on the show, but they seem to grudgingly respect each other, especially when they must work together to solve a problem. No one has much respect for Dunn, who often doesn't understand when he's being ridiculed. Hendricks does his best to keep Pied Piper going, especially when he has to deal with stressful business situations that are obviously beyond his abilities.

The first season saw Hendricks achieve success and turn down a substantial buyout offer from Hooli, whose brash CEO, Gavin Belson, realizes he has made a mistake by allowing him to leave with an important piece of technology. However, a venture capitalist named Peter Gregory steps in with an investment offer that makes Hendricks realize that Pied Piper could be worth billions in the long run, so he accepts the money.

Gregory is a character who embodies the "head in the clouds but feet on the ground" style of thinking that is often found in the valley. For example, an early season one episode has him delaying a meeting with Hendricks to sample a variety of choices from Burger King, whose food he has never tried. He realizes that most of their sandwiches have sesame seeds, whose sources are about to be threatened by cicada infestations in Brazil and Myanmar, which supply most of the sesame seeds used in the world. However, Indonesia grows sesame seeds, too, and has no cicada population, a revelation that leads Gregory to buy Indonesian sesame seed futures, enabling him to loan Hendricks money out of his projected profits.

Sadly, Christopher Evan Welch, who played Gregory, passed away during the filming of the first season, leading to his character being sent on a trip. Season two begins with the Pied Piper crew learning of Gregory's passing, which creates a new crisis because they are counting on a new round of funding from his venture capital firm. Gregory's replacement is a woman named Laurie Bream, whose character is an echo of Gregory in her mannerisms. That might have been meant as an homage to her predecessor, but instead it creates a longing for something new.

As season two continues, Pied Piper finds itself about to accept a new round of funding from Bream when Hooli launches a lawsuit against the startup for copyright infringement. The rest of the season involves Pied Piper dealing with the lawsuit while trying to prove that its technology is viable. The lawsuit creates funding problems, but a seeming white knight named Russ Hanneman, who boasts that he became rich in the '90s by "putting radio on the Internet", enters the picture and bails out Pied Piper.

However, Hanneman turns out to be an overgrown man-child who could be more trouble than he's worth, leading to further complications for Hendricks and his crew. Meanwhile, Hooli CEO Belson promotes Hendricks' friend Nelson "Big Head" Bighetti to a prominent role at Hooli XYZ (a riff on Google X, a research lab where Google works on secret projects) in the hope of showing that he was the brains behind Pied Piper, and thus proving that it was invented at Hooli, but Bighetti ends up in way over his head.

As those plotlines play out, the second season builds to a climax that sees Hendricks emerge victorious but dealt a serious setback, and he's left hanging for the third season. He and the others at Pied Piper, even the ones with less than redeeming qualities, are easy characters to root for because they're taking on a Silicon Valley establishment that sometimes values money and power over all else. While none of them change much, that's not the point of satire, where the goal is to highlight the absurdities of the subject matter.

The ten second season episodes are found on two Blu-ray discs, with a smattering of extras spread across them and a code for a digital copy. Six of the episodes have commentary tracks featuring a group of cast members and either Judge or writer/director Alec Berg. They're worthwhile listening, although sometimes the participants fall into the trap of simply watching the action and commenting on it without adding any additional insight.

There are also eight deleted scenes running close to 11 minutes. While they're all pretty funny, they're textbook examples of how sometimes good material simply has to be tossed for various reasons. The final bonus feature is a three-minute piece with Judge and some of the cast and staff members talking about the research that went into making Pied Piper's technology seem believable, especially to real engineers who can smell fakery from a mile away.

Hopefully at some point a Silicon Valley home video release will include some more in-depth bonus materials, as this is the kind of show that would be worthy of them.

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