Silicon Valley Recap: The Monkey Hustle

Photo: HBO
Silicon Valley
Episode Title
Server Space
Editor’s Rating

In the past, whenever I’ve been irritated about a plot point or situation, Silicon Valley would worm its way back into my good graces, either with a great take on a particular aspect of my profession or with funny dialogue. With this week’s episode, “Server Space,” I felt far less forgiving than I’ve normally been. I watched this episode twice before concluding that it reeked with a desperation that gave me pause. Is it too early for me to wonder if this premise is sustainable for a third season? Is Silicon Valley about to jump the shark?

For starters, the current plotline is wearing very thin. Despite having some great lines and yet another of director Mike Judge’s wicked and warped camera movements (it occurs after Erlich disses the creators of the Christian dog-sharer app, Dog Dammit), this is the weakest episode in the entire series so far. Whenever a show keeps you asking, “But wait, why didn’t they … ?” you’re bound to start questioning if your investment of time is warranted. I’m not ready to give up, but Silicon Valley 2.0 is starting to aggravate me the way Clippy, the Microsoft Office Assistant, once did. In fact, during my second viewing, this happened:

Clippy: (pops up on my TV) I see you’re getting pissed that Gavin’s quest to destroy Pied Piper has lost all credibility. Would you like help with that?

When I start hoping for Russ to appear in an episode, you know I’ve gone Blood Simple. I had to question why Richard didn’t involve him in the Hooli Server Strike that cost Richard a viable place to put Pied Piper online. When a billionaire is putting the screws to you, you fight back with another billionaire. You don’t bring a Mickey D’s paycheck to a billionaire battle. And yet, Richard immediately folds and offers up the cash originally earmarked for office space to Gilfoyle’s server-building project.

The Gilfoyle server subplot is this episode’s saving grace, but was this trip really necessary? I understand that the show is built upon the notion that Richard’s success is anathema to the show’s success, but how much farther do you think they can stretch this? Please don’t tell me this is going to be another one of those How I Met Your Mother nightmare scenarios, where I sat there hoping the kids would say, “You know what, Dad? You’re taking too goddamn long. We know you met our mother, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. We’re going to go watch NBC now.”

Should I be worried? The Silicon Valley writers have already stooped to flinging monkey bodily fluids for cheap laughs, and scripting no fewer than seven references to Richard pissing himself in his sleep. Granted, bodily functions are not new to this show — Richard has puked more than Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote — but between this and newly invented quirks for existing characters, I’m starting to fear there’s no up button on this elevator.

Matt Ross remains engaging as our hissable antagonist, and he’s still a master at turning an intentionally delusional phrase into comic gold. But Gavin has crossed the line from petulant, angry man-child still reeling from his stinging humiliation to Freddy Kreuger-like supervillain. First, he forces every big server space company to refuse service to Pied Piper, then he deliberately gives up a potential moneymaker that would pump him full of more accolades (and defendable patents) than a streaming software. I’m sorry, but this is bullshit or, rather, monkey shit.

Monkey shit is also an existing feature of Kiko, an armless monkey who demonstrates’s latest robotic creation, an artificial arm that gives its owner functionality through some kind of brain-to-prosthetic neurological connection. Dr. B. puts the arm on Kiko, whose arms were blown off by a landmine. Once in place, the monkey immediately starts spanking the monkey. Even if this were the only thing the robot arm were capable of doing (and believe me, I wouldn’t complain about that), it’s still better than Big Head’s invention, a cannon that fires potatoes. The monkey has better success at shooting than Big Head does.

“Worth is a relative thing,” Gavin says to Dr. Banarcek when the good doctor complains about Big Head’s waste of valuable human resources. “But worthlessness is not,” responds Dr. B. “It is absolute.”

After Dr. B. threatens to leave if Big Head is not replaced, Gavin accepts his resignation and promotes Big Head to take over For the third time this season, Gavin has said, in front of Big Head, that Big Head created Pied Piper at Hooli. Not once does Big Head challenge this, or even raise an objection that gets cut off by Gavin. He just stands there looking stupid. I’d kill for a moment where Big Head vocalizes some form of emotion besides being dumbfounded.

Meanwhile, to paraphrase Scottish poet Robbie Burns, the best-laid plans of Richard and Erlich go awry. Erlich is so proud of Richard leaving his incubator that he gets Richard a congratulatory Japanese kimono. It’s a wasted gift, as Hooli’s server scare tactics force Richard to use the office space money to buy network hardware. Gilfoyle will stand up the servers in Erlich’s garage, that is, once Jared moves out.

You’re forgiven if you didn’t know Jared was living in the garage. Erlich didn’t know, either. To ensure Pied Piper’s success, Jared took a pay cut that rendered him homeless. This development is oh-so-Jared; he continues to be this show’s resident heart-on-sleeve character. Gilfoyle and Dinesh even show rare notes of sympathy as a result, which immediately go away when it appears Jared may have to share a room with one of them.

“There’s no way in hell,” says Gilfoyle.

Richard draws the short straw vis-à-vis Jared’s new living arrangements, and I swear to God, this is a plot development in some Richard-Jared fan-fiction I read online. In both cases, Jared moves into Richard’s room and, well, whatever happened in that nasty fan-fiction is more believable than what happens on Silicon Valley. We discover that Jared speaks German in his sleep. Loudly. As in LOUD ENOUGH FOR PEOPLE TO HAVE DISCOVERED HIM IN THE GODDAMN GARAGE EONS AGO. While awake, Jared has no idea he speaks German. As luck would have it, I speak German. The only thing funny about the German language is the dreadful Ah-nuld-inspired accent I have when I speak it. Applied to Jared, it just seems screenplay-level desperate.

Also desperate is how “Server Space” handles a potentially intriguing subplot featuring Erlich’s nosy neighbor, Noah. Noah drives a Little Rascal scooter and becomes a real thorn in Pied Piper’s side when he discovers Erlich’s garage is not zoned for business. Noah threatens to report this crime, one that Apple, Google, and HP were all guilty of back in the day. It would have taken at least a couple of episodes for the inspectors to show up, and would have forced Richard and company to rely on the kind of creativity that made “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” so much fun. Instead, Richard discovers that Noah has illegal ferrets.

While Erlich’s blackmailing of Noah reminded us how much Erlich really does care about Richard’s growth and success, all I could think about was “ferrets? For real?” And then:

Clippy: (pops up on my TV) I see you’ve been driven insane by a ferret-infested deus ex machina. The Office Assistant cannot assist you at this time.

“Server Space” is almost saved by the latest bout of Gilfoyle vs. Dinesh. Dinesh makes a severely classist comment about doing manual labor, which comes back to bite him once Gilfoyle starts building the servers. Dinesh wants to help, but Gilfoyle throws Dinesh’s words back in his face with a vengeance:

“You work with your mind, not your hands,” Gilfoyle says. “Remember?”

When Dinesh accidentally fries the machinery by sneaking into the garage to build a server, a feat that also zaps all the neighborhood lights, Gilfoyle reveals the extent of his true IT greatness. Not only did he build the servers, he rerouted the power to pass the energy company’s meter and save money. All that hard, admittedly brilliant work gets zapped in the rare instance where Dinesh gets the better of Gilfoyle. I would have had time to savor this if I didn’t have to deal with the rest of this episode.

I’ve given “Server Space” three stars, but it’s solely because it’s my birthday and I’m drunk off my ass in Ireland — I mean, it’s because I’m feeling charitable. It really deserves two and a half stars, but the recap overlords here at Vulture like forcing me to use whole numbers. “Half-star ratings are for the indecisive, Odie!” the ratings scale says snidely. “COMMIT, ya wuss!” As tempted as I am to round down, two and a half must round up to three in this mathematician’s heart. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny: “I’ll do it, but I’ll probably hate myself in the morning.”