For three years now I’ve been tuning in to Silicon Valley, enjoying its mix of clever writing and deft characterization. It’s not a perfect comedy by any means, but Silicon Valley is without a doubt one of Mike Judge’s better works and a welcome successor to the likes of King of the Hill. But for three years, I’ve also been tuning in to its struggles with gender representation, beginning with a SXSW premiere Q&A where TJ Miller responded to a question about the show’s lack of women by pointing out that his castmate Amanda Crew was the only person on stage without a microphone. That response brought waves of giggles from male fans who seemed to miss out on the point that Miller was making, that he was painfully aware of the lack of representation and despite Judge’s assertions that they were trying to focus on male fragility in the start-up world and the issues with that, even in the non-fictional world of SXSW the show had done a disservice to women. The show at least appeared willing to somewhat tackle this inequity with its second season, adding Alice Wetterlund as a new Pied Piper employee (though she more or less immediately disappeared), Romy Rosemont as the CEO of a PornHub-esque company (who also only briefly appeared) and Suzanne Cryer as Laurie Bream, who only joined the cast as a replacement for the departed Christopher Evan Welch and is essentially impersonating him as the new head of Raviga Capital. And with last night’s premiere, the show once again missed an opportunity to diversify its cast by adding yet another white man instead of considering a woman.
The third season premiere picks up directly where season two left off, as Pied Piper escaped Hooli’s attempt to claim ownership of their IP only to discover that Richard (Thomas Middleditch) has been ousted and is no longer the CEO of Pied Piper. Richard is furious, even though the decision is practical, with the board deciding it would make more sense to lock him in a CTO role where he can focus on engineering while bringing in a CEO who can better manage the business end of the company. Raviga has even allowed Richard to retain his shares and board seat and have presented him with a number of promising candidates to interview for the CEO position, but Richard throws a temper tantrum and tells the two women board members who instigated this move that he’s going to resign in protest. This all fits with the show’s ongoing attempts to show how the people who are changing the tech world are often immature and incapable of dealing with real world problems, but in a disappointing move, Laurie and Amanda Crew’s Monica select Jack Barker (veteran character actor Stephen Tobolowsky) as their lead CEO candidate, setting season three up to be padded with even more white male authority figures than ever before.
Tobolowsky’s Barker joins Matt Ross’ Gavin Belson and Chris Diamantopoulos’ Russ Hanneman as a white male tech archetype, sandwiched between the two as the savvy and stable fixer to Hanneman’s reckless billionaire rebel and Ross’ ruthless mogul. Tobolowsky is of course a rightfully celebrated actor who imparts his roles with humor and humanity, but at this point it’s hard not to ask why Judge and company continue to think the only people in the tech world worth examining in any real depth are middle aged white men. Season two showed us the hypercompetent Romy Rosemont, whose tech-focused porn company initially seemed like a joke but was swiftly revealed to be miles ahead of Pied Piper in terms of professionalism. Likewise, Amanda Crew has functioned for the entirety of the show as a kind of conscience, supporting Richard and the rest of Pied Piper but also pointing out flaws in their beliefs and plans, cautioning them against bad decisions to usually no avail. The show clearly doesn’t skew towards misogyny, its women characters are always its most talented, yet it continues to minimize and obscure them.
While season three has obviously just started and the storyline could radically shift or change, it’s necessary to ask why Judge and similar showrunners continue to make these kinds of casting decisions. Even the old sexist chestnut of “An actress wouldn’t be as marketable!” doesn’t hold up under even the slightest scrutiny here, as the show is in no danger of not getting renewed and is now in the point of its existence where it can comfortably cast whoever it wants to cast. And if Judge’s mission with the show, as he has continuously indicated, is indeed to question the fragility of these men in tech, what better way to present that than with the addition of an exceptionally smart, talented and successful CEO to the obnoxious, incompetent, all-male confines of Pied Piper?
The showrunners’ stated emphasis on realism is also questionable on this front, as there have been ample real life news reports on women in tech for the show to utilize as inspiration, ranging from the struggles Ellen Pao faced during her time at Reddit to Sheryl Sandberg’s groundbreaking roles at a multitude of tech companies, including Microsoft and Facebook, to Meg Whitman’s status as a real life Jack Barker, elevating to eBay to an undisputed giant while serving as its CEO. Add to that the fact that women are making more waves in comedy than ever before and the decision to continuously shut women out from the show seems more insidious and malevolent than ignorant and unassuming. Silicon Valley in its current form is a good, entertaining show but the showrunners’ unwillingness to work on this flaw in its casting and writing holds it back from being great or notable.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover