HBO Sunday Comedy Block Review: Week 2
SILICON VALLEY -- TWO IN THE BOX (S3E2)
What this piece can't be weekly is a mere recitation of punch lines or great jokes from each episode of a comedy. Maybe there's a way to include a little of that kind of thing -- perhaps a Top Three Lines -- but in general, you laughed just like I laughed, so let's just spend less time talking about what was funny. The difference in Silicon Valley and so many other comedies is the jokes never feel forced. We're not on a bell timer where Judge and his team must insert a funny moment every 23 seconds.
Silicon Valley is a television show, one that is indeed a comedy, but one where the story itself matters. That's why it's possible to review it and not end up saying the same thing every seven days. Last night, we had two situations written in almost identical ways, where we all saw the purpose before the payoff, but still ate it up once we received the obvious ending.
Erlich gave Jian Yang the blueprint for staying put for the next 12 months. After putting the kimono down the disposal, using foul language, and pouring beverages on his landlord's floor, he ends up staying under the Bachman roof. Erlich described Jared's situation and didn't recognize the similarities to his own, providing step-by-step instructions to ensure he wouldn't be able to get rid of the guy. It was a similar style of joke to what we saw last week with the 20 percent of Hooli employees deserve to be fired gag. The audience could make the jump to the end before the character on screen, but it still worked, because the structure itself was impervious to eye roll.
Later, as Richard Hendricks did his best to sell what his vision was for Pied Pier, he presented every answer the sales staff, including "Keith, Northeast" (and his intern), was looking for originally. It was the exact same build to conclusion that we saw with Erlich and Jian Yang, and it was successful both times. While this show never attempts to reinvent the wheel, it tries to shuffle its deck and maintain a level of consistency through each episode.
This was a week with fewer big laughs but more substance, which provides and important balance. If I have a problem with The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I quite like, it's that we don't always get the "real." It's too willing, at the expense of everything else, to try to be over-the-top funny on certain occasions, and we lose any and all other emotions. Silicon Valley goes awkward, then hilarious, and at times it's almost dark and depressing, but knows it can't wallow in the mire for too long.
So what does it all mean?
Silicon Valley exists in large part to lampoon and take necessary shots at the bogus culture of the technology industry. One of the largest levels of horseshit about those companies is the plethora of gaudy mission statements and what's perceived compared to what that organization's reality is, which is always the bottom line. And the ones that talk about all the various causes that mean something to them, particularly the businesses that tout it alongside an anti-establishment message, are huge soul-sucking prisons of ingenuity.
Look at Apple. Whether you saw Steve Jobs as a visionary or a douche, or perhaps both, the key to his company was always profit. He might love Bob Dylan and pretend to be "anti culture," but it comes with knowledge that he really likes money. His board really likes money. Tim Cook really likes money. Mark Zuckerberg and everybody else out there truly love money. All of us really like money. With that cash comes power and influence, and apparently in 2016, it seems like it also might mean a Presidential nomination.
Jack Barker is a businessman, which is what makes him a great CEO. He says himself that there might be time for all that other crap, meaning enhancing people's lives, once they're all rich and the company is a success. Richard Hendricks, since moment one on this show, is the very definition of mumbling ditz who thinks the world can truly change. Going back even further, Office Space's Peter got tired of the grind, knowing the company didn't value him as a human being, and in effect he held up a picket sign with his scam. Hypocrisy exists on all levels, because it has to in order to build the jokes.
At times, I find it hard to feel sympathy for Richard, because I've lived on this planet long enough to recognize how things work. Once you relinquish control, or once it's taken from you, you're at the mercy of what you despise. If you're not truly your own boss, it's ultimately not up to you. By "it," put in whatever entity you want and the statement is still entirely accurate.
So when Hendricks watches that commercial spot at the end of the episode and realizes his art is being used to do precisely the opposite of what he wished to do with it, I felt sorry for him, but also couldn't help but add a little bit of, "Well what the hell else did you expect?" This is Silicon Valley. This isn't utopia.
Gilfoyle had a couple of excellent lines at the expense of Dinesh, but watching those two fall into the dope new office and the "surprise breakfast" from the exclusive engineering floor chef, was true to both characters and also again reflected what matters to them and everyone else like them. They're enjoying the good life and everything that accompanies that existence.
The most intriguing part of the episode was the Nucleus team accidentally discovering "middle out," which could both challenge Pied Piper, but also could be Gavin Belson's worst nightmare. Here we got a story that we weren't entirely expecting, but adds a bit more drama to the techie side of the show, because the effects are multi-fold.
No Big Head this week, but he didn't really fit into what the episode was trying to accomplish, but we did get Andy Daly, which is always a positive. It's the most unique comedy on television, continuing to buck trends in favor of a refreshing experience, which makes this review such a fun one to compose each week. And I didn't even talk about the horses, which was just phenomenally executed, even if you had to turn away from the screen. Stephen Tobolowsky is playing Barker like a guy with a brain, but as a man that can't fully be trusted. He's not treating Richard badly, he's the embodiment of everything big technology CEOs are, but with a little Mike Judge thrown in for an added bonus.
VEEP -- NEV-AD-A (S5E2)
Veep remains the king of the insult, and Roger Furlong sits on the Iron Throne. The "Ellen DeGeneres and Amy Brookheimer" line wasn't his best, but that's because he's had so many gems over the years that the bar has been set high. That line made me laugh, as does Veep more consistently than any other comedy on television, perhaps sometimes with the exclusion of Review with Forrest MacNeil. Add in making a vote-counter weep after a barrage of nastiness and Congressman Furlong was absolutely on fire.
And we also got Martin Mull reciting Cafferty nicknames that were both disgusting and degrading, but were also great jokes, particularly with Ben's reactions as if he's legimately, honestly proud to be called "Buttfucker." This is the world of Veep, ladies and gentlemen, may we never be awoken from it.
This week, the fight for the White House continued, and Selina had to deal with the stress of the moment while also meeting a new love interest in Charlie Baird, who of course has ties to the big banks and a respective task force. If nothing else, it's good to have John Slattery back on TV, even if he isn't drunk at 2 PM or performing a cringe-inducing blackface routine.
Meyer also makes two insensitive comments within the episode's first minute, mentioning "reservations about the reservations" and shaking "God knows what" at Walter Reed. Sometimes we go straight to the show open, but here we got the equivalent of a cold open, which set things up for the half hour to come. As I said last week, Selina has never been a bigger asshole than she is in the early stages of Season 5, and it appears to be getting worse, not better. Each prick(ette) move results in better laughs, including constantly booting her daughter from the room while she's trying to film her documentary and her reaction to the oar once the Olympians leave the Oval Office.
Let's talk about the Master Cleanse, which provided the Nazi domestic policy set-up for Ben (my favorite line this week), verbalized bathroom and blood sugar issues for Mike, and Catherine accidentally knocking over the bottle and incorrectly refilling it. Veep gets multiple laughs from even the smallest pieces of its narrative, which then makes the larger slabs even more effective and also more substantial. This was a stellar running joke, as was the one that gave the episode it's name, "Nev-AD-a." We laugh at a needle in a haystack (or in this case, a pen in the West Wing), and when the haystack itself is made of gold, we've seen something special.
Mike ends up without the right beverage as he speaks to the press, leading to poor answers and at least one reporter assured Selina is sleeping with Baird. Again, something small that became something big and still made sense.
Overall, this was a better episode than the season premiere, as we didn't have to reset anything and could instead work on the present, positioning characters for the next phase of the series. For example, Jonah dealing with working for Richard, who does everything with a smile, even when it involves him figuratively eating excrement on someone's front porch.
A Nevada recount means Selina's chances to retain the White House strengthen, which immediately leads to her wanting Charlie brought in so she can get laid. Success makes her want sex, which means she's not unlike virtually everybody else on the planet. She didn't anticipate being screwed...after being screwed, but thinks he betrayed her by crossing over to the other side. His role is just beginning to unravel, and we're not entirely sure of his motivations, other than the most prurient.
It's good that we're a bit in the dark here with the Baird character, as far too often in comedy everything is telegraphed. One thing Veep has always done well is altering the course viewers have prepared themselves to see, but always doing so in a way where we feel they got it right and we were lucky to have been incorrect. In this specific case, I'm not sure where Charlie and Selina's relationship goes or where it ends, but she's always attracted to people she despises and can't stand to be around. Look at the occasional tryst with her ex as just one example.
The same "happy and horny" vibe is also true for Amy and Dan, but Sophie shows up, because she's a repulsive human being. Actually, they all are, so I'm not sure why I was disappointed the two colleagues didn't end up boning. That's not a term I use very often, but Sophie did it, so I chose to take the low road and do the same. And then the sister decides to take Amy's spot in bed with Dan, while Amy pulls the "Nightcap" text and gets no response. Boy will she be surprised when she finds out why Egan didn't respond to her. The fact the messages went to Ben was the icing on that cake. Again, Sophie makes me frown or recoil in horror when she's on screen, which is precisely why she's on screen. Somehow she's more repugnant than Amy and Dan, who are both complete jerks. That's quite a feat for the writers, but they continue to pull it off.
Also, because of the hotel hallway and the room keys and all, for some reason I started thinking about Marcia Clark and Chris Darden on The People v. O.J. Simpson. It makes sense, because those were two other eligible people who didn't end up between the sheets with one another.
The larger question surrounding the season is whether or not Veep can allow Selina NOT to be the President going forward. It seems unlikely she goes back to being the vice president, so the season will likely hinge on how effectively the writers make it appear she's going to lose, before something unforeseen changes things at the last second.
What we've gotten thus far is laid out well, packed with one-liners and ugliness, and the kind of awkward "they went there" stuff that keeps us tuned in every week. We know to shut down the inherent moral center and just watch these clowns call each other names and bend over the American people and the country's political system. We can laugh at them, because we're seeing subversion before our very eyes, watching their utter, vapid buffoonery, knowing the joke remains more on them than anyone they look down upon or prefer to meet alongside security.
The next question is how does Nevada go for Selina Meyer and her team? The Eagle has landed and he's on his way to work with Amy and Dan, as well as Richard and Jonah. That should be most interesting.
I'm @GuyNamedJason. Follow me on Twitter. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm headed to hollow out a watermelon and fill it with watermelon-flavored Jell-O.