Starting: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is very different than a lot of comedies because it carries a serialized story throughout the first season that mines incredible laughs. You could say other premium cable comedies like Californication are serialized too, but none commit to being full-on sitcoms. That’s why I loved the 8 episodes from Mike Judge so much. They all work together and they’re hilariously funny. I wanted to know how that’s done.

The theme of the season is believing in yourself. It’s pretty cheesy, but the nebbish Richard in the pilot chooses to believe in himself by going with Peter Gregory and the slightly less nebbish Richard of the finale steps up to take the stage. The show is Richard’s, so it’s only natural that the theme is reflected through him.

The main plot of the show is starting a business and the season progresses with natural start-up issues taking up each episode. Here’s how to start a tech company in Silicon Valley:

1. Come up with a great idea and secure funding to help bring it to the next level.

2. Come up with a business plan and divide ownership of the company.

3. Come up with a great name.

4. Figure out what the company does beyond the initial great idea and establish a board.

5. Take the business to a show like Tech Crunch for publicity, create a logo, and establish a company culture.

6. Troubleshoot any additional issues with the product. Bring in outside help, if needed.

7. Bring out your product to the public.

8. Make sure your product launches as the best on the market and get ready to launch.

Positives:

  • A Story – The list above is basically tracking the A story across the season and it all flows naturally as a progression from the one before. All of the A stories are about starting the business, so the whole season is cohesive. It probably also makes it easier to come up with stories because you can brainstorm steps to starting a business and then just plug in your characters and comedy.
  • B Stories – The B stories of the show aren’t ever really involved with the A story. They don’t really matter to anything in the end. However, they’re hilarious ways to explore the personalities of certain characters. I’m talking about Peter Gregory’s Burger King, sesame seed dilemma, Jared’s trip in the self-driving car, or Gilfoyle convincing Dinesh and Ehrlich that his girlfriend wanted to sleep with Dinesh. They don’t matter to the business at all, but they are fun explorations of the characters that don’t take long because they only get a piece of a 30 minute episode. This would be tough to do in a 60 minute show because it would either distract or get stretched out too long over the episode.
  • Characters – Every character has a distinct, unique point-of-view and there are a lot of characters. Giving them all their deserved weight is incredibly difficult.
  • Casting – This is not about the writing, but the show is a comedy and the cast is all comedians that can act well. That’s a good move.
  • Ehrlich and Jared – When Jared enters the fold, it would have been boring to just let him in. The writers take advantage of an opportunity to tell a story and stick Ehrlich in the way as an antagonist. He’s a dick in his nature, so he can be the dick in the show. When necessary, because Jared actually belongs there, Ehrlich pulls back. In improv terms, he’s resting the game. It does well because you can play it again later.

Negatives:

  • The Carver – When you look at the progression, this just seems like filler. It’s not that figuring out the cloud part is less important than naming the company, but the issue is presented in a way that seems to just bridge to Tech Crunch. Maybe they could have been fighting outside help earlier in the season. I’m not sure.
  • Advertising – This is also not the writers’ fault, but the show was advertised poorly in respect to Big Head’s narrative. Josh Brener was a part of the team in the pilot and Zach Woods was not, but it was Zach and not Josh on every billboard. I kept asking the question “What is he doing here?”, which ends up being the reason he leaves in the show.

Lessons:

  • How to Stay Cohesive – Coming up with a concept for the season can help narrow down story concepts to form a progressing narrative. Starting a business is the engine that drives the story in all 8 episodes.
  • Short Digressions – When your A story is serialized, your B story can be episodic if it’s good enough (whatever that means).
  • (S)ABC ((Still) Always Be Conflicting) – Jared can’t just join the team. Someone has to get in the way. Richard can’t start the company without having a competitor. Enter Nucleus. Nothing comes easy. Or else we’d be watching porn.

Arc Theory:

Season – 8 episodes

Who are we? – 4 episodes

Tech Crunch – 4 episodes

The World’s Greatest Scientific Paper About a Dick Joke:

If you haven’t seen this, you should at least take a look. Ehrlich knows how long it would take to jerk every man off in the room and Vinith Misra proved it.

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