Tonight’s episode of Silicon Valley, “Customer Service,” starts with the Pied Piper team squirming under the imperious glare of their last investor, Gavin Belson, and ends with Richard (Thomas Middleditch), practically vibrating with unease, on the world’s most awkward elevator ride with Pied Piper’s new customer, Dan Melcher (Jake Broder). Between those two bookends are a series of comic meditations on the friction between socially inept Silicon Valley programmers and the equally quirky VCs they resentfully rely on.
Richard, who bristles at the guru status achieved by superstar VCs, is deeply wounded when firm after firm refuses to meet with him after they learn that Gavin is gone. In Richard’s view, the tech, as he keeps insisting, is the only thing that matters, and money men like Gavin keep appropriating or undermining ideas and technologies developed by people like Richard. No wonder he’d like to find a way to develop and roll out his software without interference from “all these crazy billionaires,” charging users in advance the way condo developers sometimes do. To the extent that Richard is right about VCs, his throwaway notion could be the financial equivalent of his cellphone-powered Internet idea, a potentially game-changing way to bypass a system that’s increasingly aimed at exploiting rather than serving end users.
Then again, VCs sometimes have more to offer than funding. Russ Hanneman (Chris Diamantopoulos) is overreaching when he calls Richard’s peer-to-peer Internet “our idea,” but Richard might never have articulated or decided to pursue that idea without Russ’s intuitive prodding in “Success Failure.” Monica (Amanda Crew) has helped Richard develop his ideas, most recently by leading him to Peter Gregory’s notes on a peer-to-peer Internet. And even Richard admitted in last week’s episode, “Blood Boy,” that Pied Piper needed Gavin not just for his patent and his money, but for his actual brains.
The episode consists of comic meditations on the friction between programmers and the people they rely on.
Living up—or down—to Richard’s vision of VCs is Bachman (T.J. Miller), that leech masquerading as a pilot fish. Desperate for something to do, as people keep pointing out to his growing irritation, he sets his sights on Monica and Laurie’s (Suzanne Cryer) new firm, brimming as always with unjustified self-confidence. Laurie’s complete lack of tact makes for a satisfyingly blunt denial of his initial proposal, but she probably won’t be able to hold the door closed now that he’s landed—through sheer luck, of course—“the biggest whale in the Valley,” VR superstar Keenan Feldspar (Haley Joel Osment).
While Bachman’s overinflated ego gets an unearned boost, Richard’s shaky self-esteem is again sucker-punched. Scoring another win that feels more like a loss, he secures the business of insurance execs Dan Melcher and Dan’s fiancée, Liz (Leisha Hailey), only after inadvertently seducing Liz, thus ensuring that every interaction he has with either one of them from then on will be excruciating. Middleditch delivers another dose of exquisitely awkward physical comedy in the sex scene as Richard bangs around the office with Liz, all stiff, praying-mantis angles. The day after, his face is a twitching map of humiliation, dashed hopes and wounded pride as Liz anatomizes just how bad the sex was (“I mean, how many times did our teeth clink?”) and thanks him for giving her a renewed appreciation of her relationship with Dan.
The latest battle in the eternal war between Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), is the weakest part of “Customer Service.” Less verbal and more Tom-and-Jerry than usual, their fight starts with Gilfoyle flushing Dinesh’s phone down the toilet and ends with Dinesh chanting, “I win! I win!” Their dynamics never change, but their barbs are usually a lot sharper.
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