Review: ‘Silicon Valley’ gets too predictable with ‘Bachmanity Insanity’

A quick review of tonight's Silicon Valley coming up just as soon as I fill a Ziploc bag with stuffed newspaper and draw a smile on it…

Predictability doesn't have to be the enemy of comedy. Some of the greatest sitcoms of all time generated some of their biggest laughs from the audience's anticipation of what they knew was about to happen, from Jack Benny's cheapness to Frasier Crane's arrogance to George Costanza's cowardice. But selling a joke the viewer knows is coming requires a lot of artistry and even more work on establishing the characters in question so that their programmed responses come across as a feature, not a bug.

Last week's Silicon Valley just about cleared the bar for acceptable levels of predictability. We might have realized, for instance, Richard was talking to the tech blogger long before he did, but his unfortunate monologue was just so long and so terrible that it worked despite the telegraphed punchline. “Bachmanity Insanity,” unfortunately, was a case of nearly every outcome(*) being visible from a mile away, and not turning out to be more interesting or surprising when it got much closer.

(*) The one notable exception: that, as Dinesh noted, Russ Hanneman was right in his assessment of Jared's way with the ladies. But pretty much everything the writers and Zach Woods do with that character is gold, and Jared being such a player helps compensate for how awful he has it most of the time. (Also, Gavin musing on how titans of industry used to be able to respond to scandals was, like the bulldog gag a few episodes back, a potent reminder of the comic power of indecisiveness.)

Whether it was Richard  blowing a perfectly promising relationship because of his anal-retentiveness about tabs vs. spaces, Dinesh being hoisted by his own petard by letting the female coder see what he really looks like, or Big Head losing his entire fortune thanks to his own foolish spending and Erlich's, everything more or less went like you would have expected it to from watching the first few minutes.

There are ways that punchlines like this can work. Martin Starr did a version of the Richard story in miniature back on Party Down, where Roman cost himself a night with a porn star because he couldn't accept her confusing fantasy with hard sci-fi, but that was A)a quick scene, B)didn't involve a lot of laborious set-up where the other characters all predicted the exact outcome the way Dinesh and Gilfoyle did here, and C)leaned on a well-established character trait, where Richard's obsessive-compulsiveness wouldn't be one of the first five or six qualities I listed if asked to describe him to someone. 

All that being said, Big Head had to lose his fortune sooner or later, if only because Richard having a best friend with $20 million in the bank would have been too obvious a Get Out of Jail Free card for the show to play during one Pied Piper crisis or another. And I appreciated the earlier scene about moving the pool making clear that it wasn't entirely Erlich's fault that all the money's gone. Big Head did nothing to earn that cash in the first place, so it doesn't seem too cruel to take it all away from him (as opposed to the many times Richard has seemed on the verge of losing everything), but it still might be too much baggage to put on Erlich if his foolish spending – on things like renting out Alcatraz and then paying vendors to make it look as un-Alcatraz-y as possible – being solely responsible for bankrupting his easily manipulated little partner. (I did enjoy Arthur the business manager telling Big Head that the language of the Bachmanity contract made Erlich “essentially your spouse.”)

In the balancing act of trying to keep the guys from either succeeding or failing too much, Silicon Valley is sometimes going to be too obvious in the way a story is about to tilt. This was just an episode where they all obviously tilted in the same way at the same time.

What did everybody else think?