octopus silicon valley
Jian (Jimmy O Yang) in Silicon Valley (Home Box Office, 2017)
Stories & Ideas

Fri 02 Oct 2020

Silicon Valley – Octopus

Pop cultureTelevision
ACMI Profile

Blake Howard

Australian film critic and award-winning podcaster behind Michael Mann’s One Heat Minute

With just a word, Jimmy O Yang's Jian undercuts the vampiric tech industry.

Elrich Bachman responds, "No…" while shaking his head in disbelief. He looks into the middle distance, infuriated with the conversations that have take place in the preceding 24 hours before exhaling another, "No." He winces as if he's afraid to ask, "Octopus?"

The work of a comedic mastermind, Silicon Valley co-creator Mike Judge seems to gain value and resonance like a fine wine. From "voice of a generation" Beavis and Butt-Head (199397), the last "bipartisan comedy" King of the Hill (19972010), misery magnifier Office Space (1999) and the film that predestined the plight of the USA in 2020, Idiocracy (2006), Judge seems to have the zeitgeist on tap. Rewind to 1987 and Judge started his career in Parallax Graphics, a start-up video card company in Silicon Valley. Fast-forward 27 years and Judge goes back to the well so-to-speak and co-creates a series to reflect and demystify his experiences working in Silicon Valley. Judge casts a critical eye on this focal point's inner workings for innovation.

Silicon Valley feels like a deliberate alternative to The Big Bang Theory (200719). The Big Bang Theory uses scientific professions as elaborate props that form week-to-week easter eggs for science geeks in tandem with fan pandering. Silicon Valley executive producers' Judge and Alec Berg (Barry, Bill Hader's terrific HBO series about a hitman turned buddy theatre performer) went as far as to use Silicon Valley consultants to authenticate and interrogate where the series leads. The consultants include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman and Bill Gates. The sixth season premiere even featured Thomas Middleditch's Pied Piper CEO Richard Hendricks front congress days after Mark Zuckerberg. The romantic view of the real-life players in Silicon Valley has followed the show's demystification trajectory.

TJ Miller's Elrich Bachman has been talking with Josh Brener's 'Big Head' about Jian’s (Jimmy O. Yang) recent pitch idea. Big Head offered to listen to provide feedback and promptly tuned out. Elrich, ever the douchebag opportunist, prods Big Head for what it was  he wants to see if there's a money-making opportunity right under his nose that he can exploit. Although he zoned out, Big Head seems to recall the world 'Oculus', the virtual reality headset. Elrich practically salivates about the potential for baiting venture capitalists for seed funding for VR because  to paraphrase  everyone wants to be a part of it, and no one has a clue about its application.

Cut to negotiation with Jian. We the viewers are already aware of what's at stake, so Elrich's pitiful privilege-related negotiation for an application could have a series of housemate-related benefits (more fridge room, increased pool time and free rent for Jian). We're back to where we began, Elrich in dismay. "Octopus,’ clarifies Jian. “It's a water animal.”

Instead of a cutting-edge VR app of some kind, what Jian is really developing concerns eight different ways to make octopus via Chinese recipes. The absurdity of Silicon Valley’s fishing expeditions and the amount of money invested hunting whales (or unicorns as the parlance goes) is perfectly undercut by Yang’s deadpan innocence. While he has been taken advantage of, like so many are in the cutthroat world of Silicon Valley, this sweet, simple line turns the tables on a predatory industry and its one that audiences have eaten up, with dedicated fans making supercuts and Reddit boards pouring over the eight recipes.

With T.J Miller weaved into the show's fabric, and the revelations of the scandals involving Facebook such as Cambridge Analytica, Russian bots influencing elections and "fake news", the satire of Silicon Valley consistently provided colour commentary on demons being brought into the light and positioned Jian as a hero against its machinations.

– Blake Howard

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