Silicon Valley Recap: The Vortex of Distraction

Silicon Valley
Episode Title
Proof of Concept
Editor’s Rating

If you want to see the purest form of Murphy’s Law in action, try doing a software demo. I’ve done hundreds of them, and seen hundreds more, and they’ve all been as suspenseful as a Hitchcock movie. Whether you’re the viewer or the presenter, a part of you waits for that moment when things go horribly awry. And they usually will. Remember the famous clip of the guy who was demonstrating Windows 98 with Bill Gates, only to have the system blue-screen halfway through the demo? Well, that’s probably a bad example, as blue screens of death are a feature of Windows, not a bug. But you get the idea.

Before I discuss how Erlich became the Pied Piper demo’s blue screen of death at TechCrunch Disrupt, I must reflect briefly on the only perfect demo I’ve ever seen. Back in my Wall Street days, a vendor came to the office to pitch us some software. It was a complicated demo, filled with numerous bells and whistles. The guy went through about 20 features of the software without a hitch. The demo finished to the sounds of applause and the release of baited breath.

Then the vendor accidentally hit his keyboard, and PowerPoint appeared onscreen. The entire thing had been an elaborate slide presentation. The software he was demoing wasn’t even running. In fact,  as we’d later learn, this was a huge con. The software didn’t even exist!

For much of “Proof of Concept,” the penultimate episode of Silicon Valley’s first season, I thought Richard might have to resort to PowerPoint for his demo as well. He and his team fall into what Monica calls “the vortex of distraction.” This iteration of TechCrunch Disrupt is 15 percent women, and the rare opportunity to be around boobs makes everyone goofy, especially Richard, whose code once again is holding up Pied Piper progress. It doesn’t help that the Pied Piper booth is next to a garish pink software company named Cupcakely. Their booth is manned by a hot blonde named Charlotte.

Charlotte does that thing girls used to do to me in grammar school. She pretends to be helpless and gets some dumbstruck boy to do her homework for her. In this case, she gets both Gilfoyle and Dinesh to help her fix her code. Dinesh gets further than I ever did, however. Charlotte invites him to her room to watch Cloud Atlas. Apparently this is a sure sign Dinesh is going to get laid, because, as Richard says, “nobody can watch more than a minute of that film.” In my day, women just invited you in for coffee. It was far less scary than a minute of Cloud Atlas.

Somebody does get laid in this episode, but it isn’t Dinesh. He agreed to Charlotte’s invitation because he was extremely turned on by some Java code he mistakenly thought was hers. Turns out Gilfoyle is the author of this Cupcakely software module, and he isn’t letting his rival Dinesh off the hook for loving it. “You’re gay for my code!” yells Gilfoyle. “Would you like to masturbate to a sub-routine I just wrote?” Dinesh freaks out when, mid-foreplay, he realizes he can’t stop looking at Gilfoyle’s code on Charlotte’s open laptop.

For the second week in a row, Gilfoyle has executed some form of cock-block to Dinesh. If only he’d done the same for Erlich. Dan Melcher, one of the judges for Tech Crunch Disrupt, was cuckolded by Erlich three years earlier, and Erlich isn’t sure whether Dan knows.

“We may be totally fine,” Erlich says, “or we may be totally fucked.”

Dan gives mixed signals when he sees Erlich. At Monica’s urging, Erlich looks for Mrs. Melcher to ask if her husband knows. Erlich discovers that Dan got rid of his cheating wife and remarried, which means the team doesn’t have to worry about Dan holding a grudge against Pied Piper. That is, until the new Mrs. Melcher starts pumping Erlich for information about her predecessor during drinks at a bar. You know where this is going.

Richard has his own Fresh Prince “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble” moment. Big Head informs him that Richard’s high-school ex-girlfriend is at Tech Crunch, telling everyone Richard stalked her after they broke up. Richard denies this, though his actions tell another story. He becomes more concerned about this than finishing his code. Once again, Jared pulls Richard from the abyss of distraction, though this time he does so inadvertently. (Aside: I wish the show had shown how Jared got off that damn island.)

As “Proof of Concept” heads to its climax, everything seems in order. Richard has finished his code, and the software runs and tests perfectly. TechCrunch Disrupt even implemented all of Erlich’s over-the-top dramatic Steve Jobs–esque lighting and music. But this is a demo, so Murphy applies his law with a good old-fashioned fist fight between Erlich and Dan. 'Tis a shame, because Erlich’s introduction indicated that this was going to be one masterful software demonstration.

Silicon Valley has fun shining the light of societal masculinity through a nerdy, cerebral prism. The result is the same as if these guys were jocks on a sports team or blue-collar buddies trying to drunkenly one-up each other in a bar. Richard and Co. may be super-smart, but they’re still capable of the stupidity of the average male.  The same silly macho bragging rights apply here, though feats of strength are measured by pissing contests over who writes code faster or better.

There’s also the usual strand of homophobia and worrying about women, though both of these are treated with mockery by the show. Outside of Erlich and Gilfoyle, no one else has been seen with or acted normally around a woman who wasn’t Monica, and the show subtly points out the homoeroticism that underlies some of the characters’ interactions. Jared’s big showdown with Monica this week over Richard made me think my joke about sexy Richard-Jared fan fiction from a few recaps ago wasn’t so far-fetched.

Mike Judge steps behind the camera for the first time since “Minimum Viable Product,” and some of that episode’s running jokes recur here. For example, the Tech Crunch demos are filled with people saying their product will “make the world a better place” through technobabble bullshit. Judge also gets maximum usage out of Jim Denault’s camerawork, including a how’d they do that? aerial shot of Richard puking out the Aviato van’s window on the 101.

The episode’s best gag is the Human Heater, a gadget that saves on heating bills by heating the top layer of human skin with microwaves. This is the demo that precedes Pied Piper’s, and when the judges stop the designer from turning on his human-nuking device, it foreshadows that we won’t see Pied Piper demonstrated either. Bonus points go to Richard’s doctor, whose vital signs-checking software comes with a device one can wear on one’s finger. It also comes with a Bluetooth suppository that has its own retrieval device.

Peter Gregory isn’t in this episode, as he is on safari with Lorne Michaels and Kanye West. But Big Head has a surprise appearance. I like how he represents the $10 million road not taken for Richard. “I’m buying a boat!” he tells Richard, after mentioning that he still does nothing at work.

Next week is the season finale. I’ve seen it, and all I’ll say is it’s gonna make for one hell of a recap.