Crude jokes create chaotic humor on Silicon Valley

Chaos is a beautiful thing. People do their best to avoid it; they try to escape, run around, and even bury it. The reason is simple: chaos causes problems. It’s productivity’s worst enemy. It’s the antonym for success. It’s the death of peace and calm. Yet, despite all that, it’s so easy to watch someone else do the squirming while he is enveloped by the depths of chaos.

Silicon Valley is just that. Everything that happens in the show is a disaster. Each time something goes right, something wrong buries the happiness of the characters. That chaos is brilliant. It’s unlike nearly any other comedy on air, simply because of the show’s brashness and fearlessness in doing whatever the hell it wants to do to its characters.

graphic: Aileen Wu

graphic by Aileen Wu

The show follows a group of six engineers working in Silicon Valley who hit it big when one of them accidentally invents an efficient compression algorithm, whose implications range from being able to load webpages incredibly quickly to watching a hawk flying to and from its nest in super-HD 4K with no lag time: a seemingly simple gig that actually occupies half a season and a surprising number of laughs. Both the compression algorithm and the company the group finds to build the program, Pied Piper, quickly garner the attention of plenty of investors, whose bidding war is the first time chaos truly takes over the show. Now in its third season, Richard Hendricks, the protagonist, and the rest of the Pied Piper team are working hard to keep Pied Piper afloat as competitors creep in, but their leadership flounders—Hendricks is a terrible CEO—and they quickly run low on money.

The characters are eccentric nerds whose antics are endless. A good ten minutes of episode three this season was spent with every character throwing insults at another character for buying a gold chain with his recent paycheck: “You are too legit to quit, MC Hamas.” “Later, Chain the Virgin.” “That chain is insane! And not in the membrane.” “Pakistani Mr. T.” And when he takes it off, he becomes Django… Unchained. It’s simple humor that, written out, can’t quite be fully understood, simply because the spoken delivery on the show is perfect. When said by any member of the cast, even the dullest of the lines is wondrous.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Silicon Valley is its originality. The show is somewhat reminiscent of The IT Crowd, a sitcom set in an information technology department, but it takes on the entire technology sector. Silicon Valley is the only show to capitalize on the perfect satirical fodder that is the city of Silicon Valley. The show puts Silicon Valley in the spotlight in a new way, making jokes about nearly every aspect of the tech industry and the people who run it, making the audience question exactly how their phone made its way from the drawing board to their pockets. Are the people who made this thing really that crazy?

Yet none of this tops Silicon Valley’s craziness, simply because anything can happen there. An entire episode can be spent making the perfect plan of action only for it to be destroyed a few seconds later. Unfortunately, it can get to the point of becoming formulaic, as every episode, it seems, the characters are faced with an insurmountable obstacle, overcome it, and walk themselves into yet another insurmountable obstacle. It’s a rollercoaster of failure, success, failure, and success again. With every solution comes the ubiquitous problem: chaos.

How the clueless engineers handle the chaos is just as entertaining as the chaos itself. Richard Hendricks is an  awkward, clumsy engineer who loses his entire thought process when he becomes flustered, which happens very, very frequently. The humor that comes at his expense is wonderful, and he is socially inept enough that it’s easy to feel bad for him, yet the self-inflicted nature of most of his conflicts makes it just as easy to laugh at him.

The humor that comes at the expense of Richard & Co., however,  is often crude and biting. Mike Judge, who co-created Silicon Valley, has a resume that includes creating Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill, animated shows built on crude humor. While Silicon Valley doesn’t quite bend to the crudeness of Beavis and Butt-Head, hints of that type of comedy often drop in. Startling one-liners and vulgar jokes frequently occupy screen time, but despite their obscenity, they are often unsparingly cringeworthy. After all, it’s HBO, and anything goes. And with Silicon Valley, what goes is some prime-time chaos. So sit down and keep watching TV after Game of Thrones for some well-earned smiles and laughs at chaos.

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