Silicon Valley returns for its second season Sunday night (April 12) at 10pm, following the Game of Thrones return. With a cast featuring recent mental_floss cover model Kumail Nanjiani, the show has changed a bit from its first season, and given the circumstances (see below), it's all for the better. Tune in Sunday night after you've seen what's going on in Westeros, to catch what's up in Silicon Valley. Here's a trailer:
Tragedy + Time = Comedy
In early December, 2013, actor Christopher Evan Welch died after a three-year battle with cancer. If you watched the first season, you know him as an extremely important character—he's Peter Gregory, the nutty investor. If you saw Synecdoche, New York, you might remember him from the funeral monologue. He was also in The Master and a bunch of other stuff. It's incredibly sad to see just how good he was on Silicon Valley—he stole the show, even though his health only allowed him to shoot five episodes. Now he's gone.
The show had to deal with that. It is the first piece of news we get in the first episode, and is a shock for Pied Piper, the fictional startup company in the series. It's a credit to the writers that they proceeded to do two key things: linger on this death, giving it due screen time and emotional weight (in a half-hour comedy!); and to cast the excellent Suzanne Cryer (playing Laurie Bream), in his place.
Passing the Bechdel Test
Left to right: Thomas Middleditch, Amanda Crew, Suzanne Cryer, talking business. Photo courtesy Frank Masi/HBO.
I am pleased to report that Silicon Valley now passes the Bechdel Test, in episode one of season two.
For those of you who aren't aware, the test is very simple: We must see two named female characters speak to each other about anything other than a man. That's it. In season one, this didn't happen. Why? Maybe because there was only one female series regular (Amanda Crew playing Monica), or perhaps because Silicon Valley (the place and the show) are largely boys' clubs. But as Cryer arrives as a new series regular (in the same office as Crew), the show gets right down to business and puts those characters together in a room to have conversations about business.
Amusingly, the writers are completely aware that reviewers like me are looking for this test to be passed, so they write the women's dialogue to be almost exclusively about other men (the deceased Peter Gregory, the boys at Pied Piper, and so on), but they do manage to slip in actual, legit dialogue about their careers that means we can check the box and, just maybe, move on from this whole thing. Good job, Silicon Valley. Thank you for listening, and I'm looking forward to the next female season regular (hinted at in a Twitter Q&A).
Child-Men Behaving Badly
Left to right (foreground): Martin Starr, Zach Woods, Kumail Nanjiani, out of their element. Photo courtesy Frank Masi/HBO.
The bulk of early season two for Silicon Valley is, much like the first, about a bunch of child-men trying to navigate various business and personal challenges that are beyond their emotional abilities. This is, let's be frank, hilarious. Early on, the issue is how they'll get funding for their company, now that the money guy has died. Later, the key issue is how a bunch of guys who have trouble communicating and cooperating can run a company together. This is delicious, in part because I have seen startups firsthand, trying to get their acts together—albeit not with such amped-up-for-TV-comedy guys—but it's surprisingly true to life.
Mike Judge is really good at showing characters who can't express their feelings properly, or who are so repressed that they eventually explode. See, for instance, Milton in Office Space. Or almost every male character except Bobby in King of the Hill. King of the Hill is a terrific parallel, as the group of beer-drinkers communicates so much (and simultaneously so little) with their grunts, "yups," "dang 'ols," and "mm-hmms." Age them down by 20 years, give them some tech skills, put them in a highly competitive situation with money on the line, and you have these twenty-something guys in Silicon Valley. They're more articulate, but they still fail to express themselves maturely, because they are fundamentally immature. And that makes for great TV.
The key theme of the show, aside from these boys out of their depth, is the danger of participating in a culture you don't understand. In the first episode, it's all about investment—how much money should be invested in the company, how does that all work, what are the perils of gaining and losing money, who can be trusted, all that. But ultimately, Silicon Valley is about trying to fake it until you make it, I think we can all relate to that. If you enjoy often-crude humor, fine writing, and excellent acting (particularly from Cryer and Thomas Middleditch, who plays Richard Hendricks), this show is a treat to cap off your Sunday evening.
Where to Watch
The second season of Silicon Valley debuts on Sunday, April 12 at 10:00-10:30pm ET/PT, directly after the season debut of Game of Thrones. It's on HBO, and I'm going to watch it on HBO NOW, a service I've been wanting for a decade. Goodbye, cable! Hello, streaming! (Note: Apparently HBO NOW is limited at launch to Apple devices, with a focus on the Apple TV; it should roll out more broadly in a few months. If you have HBO GO or, you know, HBO on cable, that all works too.)
You don’t have to know a PDF from a CMS to understand that Silicon Valley is one of the funniest comedies on television right now. While it’s been a hit with tech insiders—proving to be as cringe-worthily authentic to their industry as This is Spinal Tap was to musicians around the world—the show’s creators are banking on the fact that the majority of viewers don’t understand the first thing about compression or any other technical process. As the Emmy-nominated series prepares to debut its fifth season—its first without T.J. Miller—here are 20 things you might not know about the hilarious, Mike Judge-co-created comedy.
1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED AS A FEATURE FILM.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
More than 10 years before Silicon Valley made its debut in 2014, co-creator Mike Judge—who had logged some hours as an engineer in the real Silicon Valley—toyed with the idea of creating a feature film centered around America’s tech giants. “I’ve been hovering around with something like this for a while,” Judge told Deadline during the show’s first season. “Way back, before the dotcom burst in 2000, I thought about doing something like this, about a tech billionaire [Microsoft co-founder] Paul Allen-type, but that was as a movie.”
2. HBO WANTED MIKE JUDGE TO MAKE A SHOW ABOUT GAMERS.
Though Judge never got around to writing that feature, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky—writers and showrunners on Judge’s King of the Hill—eventually came to Judge with their own take on the tech world. “[Altschuler] suggested an idea like Falcon Crest, but instead of wine and oil money, it would be tech money,” Judge said. At the same time, HBO had expressed interest in working with Judge on a project. “HBO came to me with an idea about gamers with Scott Rudin attached, and from that point it was always going to be a TV series,” he explained. “I told them that I didn’t know enough about the gaming world, but I had worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley, and I suggested we do a project about that.”
3. AN EARLY VERSION FOCUSED ON TWO WOMEN WHO COME TO SILICON VALLEY LOOKING FOR THE NEXT BIG BILLIONAIRE.
Though HBO was anxious to work with Judge on a project, network executives were reportedly less than thrilled with the original pilot, which revolved around two women who come to Silicon Valley from Los Angeles in order to land the next dot-com billionaire. “We wanted women," one HBO exec toldThe Hollywood Reporter, "but not like that.”
Though Altschuler and Krinsky remained committed to the original idea, HBO was ready to walk away from the project. The writers departed the project, and Judge recruited writer-producer Alec Berg (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) to help rethink the series. “We reshot half the pilot," Casey Bloys, HBO's president of programming, explained. "And what those guys turned in was a comedy that was genuinely funny and also had something to say."
4. JUDGE WAS THINKING OF THOMAS MIDDLEDITCH AS HE WROTE THE SCRIPT.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
Though Thomas Middleditch was better known for his standup and some smaller film and television roles, he is the person Judge had in mind when he was writing the role of Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks. “This project felt charmed from the beginning,” Judge told Deadline. “I was a little worried before we started the casting process. I thought of Thomas Middleditch when I wrote it. He auditioned like everybody else and was great. It was important to me that the cast was believable, that they are highly intelligent and not just goofy caricatures. They had to be both funny and good actors.”
5. MOST OF THE CAST WANTED TO BE ERLICH BACHMAN.
Nearly every actor who ended up as a series regular (with the exception of Middleditch) auditioned to play Erlich Bachman, the self-centered entrepreneur who runs the incubator in which Pied Piper is born. Eventually, it was T.J. Miller who landed the part—or, more accurately, his silhouette. Judge told The New York Times that they were auditioning for the role in a frosted glass conference room, and when Miller walked by, just his silhouette elicited laughter. “If someone’s silhouette can make you laugh, they’re probably pretty funny,” Judge said.
6. AMANDA CREW ALMOST CANCELED HER AUDITION BECAUSE OF THE LACK OF WOMEN.
Silicon Valley is very much a boy’s club—so much so that it gave Amanda Crew, who plays Pied Piper board member Monica Hall, pause when it came time to audition. Concerned that she’d play more of a “seductress” than the whip-smart venture capitalist she became, she admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that, “I almost canceled my audition.”
7. THE WRITERS SPEND A LOT OF TIME RESEARCHING THE TECH INDUSTRY.
When discussing the authenticity of the series, Judge told Esquire that his past experience as an engineer working in Silicon Valley certainly helps, especially as “the personality types haven't changed that much.” But Berg shared that the writers really immerse themselves in the research, telling the magazine that, “At the beginning of each season, the entire writing staff goes up to San Francisco and the Valley for about a week. We pack our days with meetings with startups and with venture capitalists and different serial entrepreneurs. We have lunches and dinners with all kinds of oddball people with a lot of interesting thoughts.”
8. IT’S TOO PAINFUL FOR SOME TECH ENTREPRENEURS TO WATCH.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
Silicon Valley nails the true spirit of the Bay Area tech corridor and the people who inhabit its cubicles—sometimes, a little too well. “I get a good chunk of people saying hey, 'I love the show, it’s great, that happened to me' or whatever,” Middleditch told Den of Geek, “and then I get a really large amount of people saying ‘I can’t watch your show, it’s too painful. It’s like all my painful memories of being an entrepreneur are brought up in your show and therefore I can’t watch it.’”
For his part, Berg takes that as a compliment. “I’ll take that,” he said. “To me, if you look at a bell curve, rather than being at the center of the curve where everybody thinks it’s alright, I would rather live out at the edges where we’ve got fanatical fans and we’ve also got fanatical haters. I’ll trade mediocrity for the extreme.”
9. FINDING A WAY TO CREATE EXCITEMENT AROUND A BUNCH OF GUYS WHO SIT IN FRONT OF COMPUTER MONITORS ALL DAY CAN BE CHALLENGING.
While Judge, Berg, and their talented team of writers have no problem bringing out the humor in the series’s colorful cast of characters, the biggest challenge they face is creating drama and excitement around a group of guys who spend the bulk of the day sitting in front of a computer monitor. Having funny actors helps. “We found these guys and juggled things around and wrote to them,” Judge told Deadline. “These guys are programmers and sit in front of the computer screen for 16 hours—how do you film that and make that funny? That was a challenge. This world is so absurd, there’s a lot of great material along the way.”
“We try and make it about emotions or you try and get characters on opposite sides of a point of view so that they can argue about it in words, like Dinesh and Gilfoyle are constantly at each other and that’s not a thing that plays inside an IM window, that’s two people talking to each other,” Berg told Den of Geek. “We have to be good at figuring out what the emotional angles are and having characters play that.”
10. THE SHOW HAS BEEN ONE STEP AHEAD OF TECHNOLOGY ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION.
Technology moves at a breakneck speed—and so does Silicon Valley. “There were a few instances where the show would describe something, and by the time the episode came out, it had already happened in real life. I mean, bad ideas included,” Judge toldEsquire. “Like that app that was in the pilot, Nip Alert. It was supposed to be a bad idea. We had already shot the pilot and we went to TechCrunch Disrupt to kind of check it out. There was a big controversy because some Australian douchebag programmer had started a thing called Titstare. It brought out the sexism in Silicon Valley, and by the time our show aired—which was like nine months after that or so—it was written up somewhere as, ‘Oh they're making fun of Titstare,’ but we actually had that before.”
11. THE CREATORS ARE WELL AWARE THAT MOST VIEWERS DON’T KNOW A THING ABOUT TECHNOLOGY.
While some potential viewers may be turned off by the idea of a “tech” show, you don’t need to know a thing about technology to understand what’s going on. In fact, Judge and Berg half expect that their audience knows nothing about the subject. “We kind of make it so when there are technical things in play that it’s really not about the technology, it’s about some kind of emotion or a story that’s rooted in some kind of personal stakes that are relatable in an emotional way, hopefully,” Judge told Den of Geek.
“Fundamentally this is a show about outsiders and that’s one of the things that I think makes it, as you said, relatable,” added Berg. “These are guys trying to do something but they face long odds and they’re decidedly not part of the establishment which I think makes them somebody you root for.”
12. NOT ALL OF THE ACTORS ARE SUPER TECH-SAVVY EITHER.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
Though he plays a master programmer on the show, Martin Starr is the first to admit that he isn’t the tech-savviest of actors. “For the most part, I use my computer to write and Google whatever pops up in my brain that I want to know about in the moment,” Starr toldFast Company. “Other than that, tweeting may be about as tech-savvy as I get.”
Fortunately for Starr and the rest of the cast, there are consultants on the set to help the actors better understand what the hell they’re talking about. “Most of my questions to those guys are about understanding what I’m saying,” Starr said. “In our [first] season finale, there’s perhaps the most complicated dick joke that’s ever existed. It makes you feel real stupid when a base-level joke is too complicated for you.”
13. KUMAIL NANJIANI THINKS TECHNOLOGY IS DANGEROUS.
In October 2017, Kumail Nanjiani, who plays programmer Dinesh Chugtai, took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the power of technology. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t overly optimistic.
Thread: I know there's a lot of scary stuff in the world rn, but this is something I've been thinking about that I can't get out of my head.
14. THE ACTORS AND WRITERS ARE PITCHED TECH IDEAS ALL THE TIME.
Though Silicon Valley’s stars and writers are just that—actors and writers—that doesn’t stop the would-be Richard Hendrickses of the world from pitching anyone involved with the show their own tech ideas. “You have to be careful, because if you start talking to them, then they’ll start pitching you their thing,” writer Clay Tarver toldThe New York Times. “So I just don’t talk to anyone. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb here.”
15. MANY OF THE SHOW’S STARS HAVE BECOME TECH INVESTORS.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
The upside to all that pitching? Some of the show’s stars have been bitten by the Silicon Valley bug and actually invested in some startups. Amanda Crew has invested in a handful of female-run businesses, including Darling, a magazine that adheres to a strict “no retouching” photo policy. Middleditch, meanwhile, has focused on companies dedicated to aviation and the environment, including Beyond Meat, a plant-based ‘meat’ company. Both Middleditch and Martin Starr have also invested in WaterFX, a solar desalination company.
16. THEY’VE HAD SOME MAJOR TECH GURUS SIT IN ON THE WRITERS ROOM.
Though the show’s creators had trouble getting industry insiders to open up to them in the early days, before the show was a proven quantity, they’ve since managed to lure a number of A-list tech names to sit in the writers room.
“[A]fter the first season aired … I do think we got a lot of fans, and it became much, much easier to get people to talk to,” Berg toldEsquire, adding that they ended up having former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo “sitting in the writing room once a week. He's just a fan of the show, and he found himself out of work, and he decided to come down once a week and just hang.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (who was a classmate of Berg’s at Harvard), LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman are among the individuals who have offered input to the show’s creators.
17. YOU PROBABLY DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT JARED’S PAST.
Ali Paige Goldstein, HBO
Though Donald “Jared” Dunn (Zach Woods) may be the heart of Silicon Valley, you’re probably best not knowing too much about his oft-hinted-at dark past. According to Judge, many of the seemingly out-of-nowhere lines that Jared delivers about his bizarre personal history come straight from Woods. “A lot of this originally came from lines that Zach would just improv in the first two seasons,” Judge toldEntertainment Weekly. “Almost none of them made it in, but they did influence our writing of the character. Then we just started putting them in in ways that made a little more sense, where it was a little more organic to the scene.”
As for Woods himself: “To me, there’s like a hazy toxic fog that’s behind Jared,” he told IndieWire. “You don’t really know what happened, but you know it was real bad … If you could see the amount of backstory I have for Jared! I’m constantly trying to shoehorn in Jared’s unbelievably traumatizing history. Because in my head, one of the things that’s funny about Jared is that he’s endured unspeakable, constant tragedy for the first 30 years of his life, but is completely un-self-pitying and resilient.”
18. THERE’S A PIED PIPER WEBSITE.
If you’ve ever wondered what Pied Piper’s website might look like if it existed in real life, you’re in luck: HBO built a website for the company, complete with company bios, a blog (written by Jared), cheesy font, and banner that proudly touts the fact that, “Pied Piper's Space Saver App Hits Top 500 in Hooli App Store!”
19. T.J. MILLER COULD HAVE COME BACK FOR AN ABBREVIATED FIFTH SEASON.
Season four ended with a bit of a shakeup when T.J. Miller and the series very publicly parted ways with the show. As one of Silicon Valley’s breakout stars, the departure left the writers with a couple of challenges, but Judge—for one—believes that Miller’s departure was for the best. “It just wasn't working,” Judge toldThe Hollywood Reporter. He and his fellow creators offered Miller the chance to return for three episodes in the fifth season, in order to give Erlich a proper sendoff, but Miller declined.
20. PREPARE FOR JIAN-YANG TO BECOME THE SERIES’S RESIDENT “A**HOLE.”
With Erlich Bachman gone, Jian-Yang is ready to take up the role of becoming the series’s resident a**hole. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Jimmy O. Yang—who has spent several seasons in Erlich’s shadow—said he is ready to ratchet up the obnoxiousness of his character. “I kind of love it,” he said of his character’s recent transformation from quiet incubee to Erlich’s nemesis. “Because me, myself, I don’t think I’m an a**hole in real life. Something about me playing an a**hole is very funny, because I look very small and nice.”
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy … but at least he's stylish. In a 60-year career full of memorable performances, Jack Nicholson's role in The Shining as Jack Torrance—the husband, father, and blocked writer who convinces his family to move to an empty ski resort for the winter so that he can finally finish writing the great American novel, then slowly descends into madness—remains one of his most iconic, and terrifying, characters. Now, via Italian auction house Aste Bolaffi, director Stanley Kubrick's former assistant and longtime friend Emilio D'Alessandro is giving fans of the brilliantly nuanced psychological drama the chance to own a piece of the movie's history, including the burgundy corduroy jacket that Nicholson wore throughout the movie.
According to the item's listing, the jacket was chosen by Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero "after Jack Nicholson insisted it should be worn by his character, Jack Torrance, and a small number of it were made for the shooting of the film." It's a perfect accessory for a variety of activities, including shooting the breeze with a cocktail-serving ghost or chasing your family through a hedge maze in the middle of a snowstorm. Just be ready to pay a pretty penny for it: the bidding starts at €10,000, or just north of $12,000.
The jacket is one of many pieces of original Kubrick memorabilia going up for sale: props from A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut, and Full Metal Jacket are among the other items up for grabs (for the right price), as is a rare cut of The Shining featuring a never-released scene. "These cuts, given by Kubrick to D'Alessandro, are particularly rare because the director notoriously burned all the leftovers at the conclusion of the editing," according to the listing.