‘Silicon Valley’ and the Curious Case of Season 2’s ‘Woman Problem’

'Silicon Valley' and the Curious Case of Season 2's 'Woman Problem'

Over the past nine weeks, the second season of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” has been making good on Season 1’s satirical promise. By expanding its world and turning its rags-to-riches storyline into a dog-eat-dog brawl among pseudo-intellectual tech startups, the half-hour comedy has become one of the funniest shows on television. There’s been much to praise about its glorious run of episodes this year, mainly the Emmy-worthy performances from Thomas Middleditch and T.J. Miller, but one of the season’s most intelligent, biting and brand new angles — slyly addressing the media industry’s woman problem — has oddly gone missing in its back half, prompting much confusion and concern.

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When “Valley’s” debut season wrapped up in June 2014, the most vocal criticism lobbied against it was for its blatant lack of female characters, a complaint that inspired countless think pieces and video spoofs on the show’s apparent “woman problem.” Such concerns were warranted considering Amanda Crew, who plays Raviga Capital assistant Monica, was the only actress in the Season 1 main cast.

While critics and fans displayed some distaste for the show’s lack of substantial female roles, the cast and crew stuck to their guns in support of Judge’s satirical spin on the tech world. “We’re not trying to change Silicon Valley,” Crew told reporters earlier this year on the Season 2 red carpet, “we’re trying to comment on Silicon Valley and [the lack of women] is what exists.”

In a video interview with Bloomberg’s Emily Chang, Judge was quick to agree with Crew’s claims, reassuring, “We’re doing satire about it. I think if we just came out with the show and every company was 50 percent women and 50 percent men, we’d kind of be doing a disservice by not calling attention to the fact that it’s really 87 percent male. I think [venture capital partners] are 94 percent male. We’re doing satire.”

Using the show’s satirical foundations as a defense shield hasn’t satisfied all critics, but Season 2 has proved that Judge has been listening to his vocal detractors. In a move that would make his intelligently stubborn characters proud, Judge beefed up the female presence on “Silicon Valley” this season in the form of two highly-welcomed additions: Suzanne Cryer’s Laurie Bream and Alice Wetterland’s Carla Walton. But instead of allowing these new actresses to rewrite the wrongs of Season 1 (they do not function as women-in-tech satire points), Judge has used them to pop the show’s primitive male bubble and address the overall lack of women in TV and film, especially on shows as hyper-masculine and testosterone-fueled as “Silicon Valley.” The move opened up the show’s satirical targets and made it a comedy with a whole lot more to say than just parodying tech-bro culture.

Cryer’s Laurie Bream joined the season in the first episode as a replacement for the late Christopher Evan Welch’s atypical Peter Gregory. While replacing the late actor with an actress was an obvious and blunt smirk to the show’s gender detractors, the fact Judge purposefully made Bream the same character as Gregory seemed to speak to higher issues of showrunners writing roles for men when women can play them just as good, if not better. Cryer was a comic force in early episodes this season, maintaining Welch’s weirdo detachment but kicking things up a notch with her rapid-fire motormouth. Bream is as much a satirical oddball-on-the-spectrum as Gregory was, and therefore Cryer’s role on the show proved gender meant nothing in getting the satirical purpose of the character across.

Wetterland’s Carla made her debut in Episode 4 (“The Lady”), and the fact this episode directly addressed what would happen if a lady popped up in Erlich Bachman’s masculine incubator made it one of the best and boldest things “Silicon Valley” has ever done. Judge used the character to show just how naive and rude men on this show could become if a capable woman showed up to do her job as good, if not better, than they could. The way Carla manipulates the house and turns male characters against each other by lying about her salary, and the way she literally threatens the impenetrable male exterior with her story about her cousin, “Cunty,” proves Judge could address his haters by opening up the commentary of the show to other important areas of gender discrimination, not just that pertaining to to the real Silicon Valley (he clearly still feels the lack of female roles “addresses” this point as it did in Season 1). A running gag in Episode 6 revolving around Jared forcing Monica and Carla to be “office buddies” also spoke sharply to this point in hilarious ways.

So color us deeply confused by the fact both Cryer and Wetterland have been pretty much absent from the show for the past handful of episodes now. Wetterland has popped up in the background here and there, but Cryer hasn’t been seen in nearly a month of airtime. Just when Judge was addressing Season 1’s “woman problem” with wit and creativity, he abruptly stopped. Anyone watching the show this season can tell you how unusual and unavoidable this change has felt.

In some ways, their disappearances could be serving a greater commentary purpose. That Bream and Monica refused to work with Pied Piper and lunatic funders like Russ Hanneman (Chris Diamantopoulos) after a lawsuit was thrown at them actually makes the ladies the smartest duo on the show. 

Could their omission in recent weeks be showing just how smart women are for not getting involved in the immature, masculine hijinks of “Silicon Valley”? Could Carla’s limited screen time since her memorable debut be purposely shining a light on the way television shows force actresses to play second fiddle to men? Maybe, but the big problem here is how blurry the line is between whether or not the show is commentating on or enabling this issue.

Perhaps tonight’s season finale will provide some closure as to what exactly Judge has been planning this entire time in regards to Season 2’s “woman problem” commentary. All we know for sure is that watching Cryer and Wetterland earlier this year resulted in some of the best things the show has ever done. The way Judge incorporated these characters into the narrative allowed “Silicon Valley” to expand beyond its comfort zone of tech startup satire and into the much smarter world of meta-television commentary. Here’s hoping they return soon.

The Season 2 finale of “Silicon Valley” premieres tonight on HBO. 

READ MORE: How Silicon Valley Relates to the Film Industry

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Comments

Eric

This is the problem with art criticism in general: it’s more about satisfying people’s virtues than it is about expression.

Christopher

I usually dislike nitpicking on these comment threads but I feel compelled, given the piece’s thesis: Monica is not employed as an assistant! She was Head of Operations and is now Associate Partner at RC. Research and proofread! Especially if you’re discussing a show’s "woman problem" while diminishing the actual role of its most prominent female character. Sigh.

Katherine

For the most part this is a pretty thoughtful and well written piece, which makes it all the more baffling that the author twice used the word "good" when he very clearly should have used well ("a woman could do the job just as good as a man")….weird.

FP

You lost me at "There’s been much to praise about its glorious run of episodes this year, mainly the Emmy-worthy performances from Thomas Middleditch and T.J. Miller." Not only has season 2 been one of the absolutely worst comedies of the year, totally absent of Mike Judge’s excellent comedic voice, it spent the first half of the year being patently lacking in comedy. The 8th and 9th episodes were atrocious. I don’t care if they come up with SEINFELD level genius tonight, it will still have been far from an Emmy-level season for anybody involved with the series.

Vin

glad someone is keeping tabs on PC quotas!

James

I know it’s just a letter off but her surname is Wetterlund. Maybe some old-fashioned proofreading could serve you well in your future journalistic endeavours

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