“While HBO’s Silicon Valley is an enjoyable show, make sure your eyes are open to its erasure of already-marginalized communities within the tech industry.”
Title: Silicon Valley
Episodes Reviewed: Seasons 1-4
Creators: John Altschuler 👨🏼🇺🇸, Mike Judge 👨🏼🇪🇨🇺🇸, and Dave Krinsky 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: John Altschuler 👨🏼🇺🇸 (38 eps), Mike Judge 👨🏼🇺🇸 (38 eps), Dave Krinsky 👨🏼🇺🇸 (38 eps), Amy Aniobi 👩🏾🇺🇸 (10 eps), Shawn Boxe 👨🏾🇺🇸 (10 eps), and various (15 ♂, 5 ♀, 2 POC)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Silicon Valley is a genuinely funny show, boasting great comedic timing and talent. It starts off strong, dips in quality around Season 2 or 3, but lifts right back up by Season 4. In this latest 10-episode stretch, the writers bring welcome character development, making sure the sitcom does not rest on its laurels.
Standout roles include the irreplaceable Jared (Zach Woods), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang). Meanwhile, the unchanging schtick of Erlich (T.J. Miller) gets old quick and I look forward to his exit from the series, which should bring in a breath of fresh air. And main character Richard (Thomas Middleditch) could be played by any actor capable of doing "nervous nerd."
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES (barely)
As much as I enjoy the show, its stance on women is some of the worst currently running on television. Silicon Valley loses on all fronts in this category—number of women, quality of their roles, and their depiction as bit players and sex objects in a man’s world.
For example, Season 4's tall, athletic, and beautiful Liz Tinsdale is paired with nerdy and unattractive partners—the balding, bespectacled Dan Melcher for a fiancé and a one night stand with Richard. After the episode where Liz attacks Richard like an insatiable, horny cougar, she is then treated as a business liability for the members of the incubator. This shop talk of womens' bodies is the vast majority of how females are written in Silicon Valley, whether it's Dinesh's girl Mia (she's so crazy! Ha ha!), Richard's ex Winnie (who only resurfaces in Season 4 once she belongs to another man), or the nameless gorgeous women who somehow wind up in a threesome with the sunken-eyed, ghost-like Jared.
By the numbers, a Diversity Check we conducted on the show reveals such morsels as one episode seeing just 9 seconds of female speaking time, compared to 25:39mins devoted to men talking (and talking, and talking). Across the entirety of Season 4, women only garner 6.7% of the dialogue.
This evidence only backs up what is patently clear to any viewers show—Silicon Valley knows fuck-all what to do with women and neither do they care.
At first blush, Silicon Valley looks like it might be passing the minimum hurdle by including Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) as part of the main cast. But once we compare the show against ethnic demographics of the actual Silicon Valley, it quickly becomes evident that the fictionalized version is falling far, far below par.
In fact, if HBO’s Silicon Valley reflected the demography of its industry setting, it would have 11 fewer white cast members (and an additional 11 Asian actors)
When we know that the actual tech industry staffs so many more Asians and slightly more Hispanics than depicted onscreen, it becomes less excusable that Mike Judge’s show is frontloaded with all white characters save for Dinesh and later in the series, Jian Yang, who is hilarious but goes hard with the caricature of an accented Chinese immigrant with corrupt family members.
Still, we’ll give one point for Dinesh’s great character as well as props for one non-stereotyped Asian, Ed Chen (Tim Chiou) who is depicted as athletic and bro-ey. He only sees 4 episodes of 38, but it’s better than the other POCs who feel like reluctant nods to diversity as they pepper the background world of Silicon Valley in numbers far below their true shares.
Just look at the following—a real life Google Talk set in Mountain View, CA (left), versus a Season 1 still from the show (right). Obviously this is a tiny sample size but it's merely an illustration of what we uncover in our research brief about POC erasure from HBO's Silicon Valley.
There are no confirmed LGBTQ characters across 38 episodes. Instead, what we find is juvenile subtext, especially in the character of Jared who follows Richard around like a puppy, or between Dinesh and Gilfoyle who are constantly at odds with each other in the manner of pulling pigtails. But like, "no homo" because each of these characters have storylines involving sex with women.
In addition to this strange subtext, Silicon Valley employs a plethora of gay jokes in their attempts to mimic a frat house. Look, I have nothing against dick jokes or good, old-fashioned immaturity. I loved the first season finale which includes a complex equation written on whiteboard to measure how to jerk off all the men at the TechCrunch Disrupt convention. But as a whole, this fixation on queer jokes without actually including any LGBTQ characters feels supremely dated, reflecting worse and worse on the series the longer the farce goes on.
Mediaversity Grade: D 2.06/5
Judge defends his show by calling it satire. But our data dive argues that it doesn’t matter what Judge intends—his show gets its laughs on the backs of misogyny and racial stereotypes, which is irresponsible when its depictions are internalized by an entire industry (and wider audience) that already collectively believes the false narrative that only white men succeed in the tech world.
While HBO’s Silicon Valley is an enjoyable show, and I wouldn't dissuade anyone from watching it, please make sure your eyes are open to its erasure of already-marginalized communities within the tech industry.