Silicon Valley: “Articles Of Incorporation”
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Silicon Valley: “Articles Of Incorporation”

What’s in a name?

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Silicon Valley

"Articles Of Incorporation"

Season 1, Episode 3

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the characters of Silicon Valley, it’s “look before you leap.” In an environment that’s this full of money and opportunities, it’s easy to get dazzled by the idea of a massive payday or to delude yourself into thinking your idea is something special, ignoring the hundreds of cautionary tales that are all around you. And the majority of the show’s problematic circumstances are driven by Richard and company’s simultaneous excitement and inexperience, not realizing how bad a situation is until it’s at their doorstep threatening lawsuits and physical abuse. “Articles Of Incorporation” is another episode full of those instances, and it’s also an episode with enough character and comedic timing that it proves how little time the show needed to find its voice.

The episode picks up shortly after the last-minute revelation from “The Cap Table” that Pied Piper doesn’t technically exist as a business, a discovery that only gets worse when Jared learns that the name is already registered to an irrigation company. (He also reveals that his real name is Donald and Gavin labeled him “Jared” on his first day, putting him in the same sad-sack category as Cooter Burger and Gary/Jerry/Larry Gergich.) While the rest of the company is happy to ditch the name for something more professional and less like an “Irish pornography company,” Richard refuses to give up his vision. Part of it is for business reasons—he can’t go back to Peter and ask for a rewritten check—and part of it is the pride he showed off last week. If this is going to be his business, he’s going to make sure he controls it, regardless of his team’s endless insults.

By sending Richard out to talk with original Pied Piper owner Arnold, it gives the show a chance to see how he deals with people outside of Silicon Valley. You’d expect him to be just as bad at these interactions if not worse, but surprisingly, it succeeds equally because Arnold finds his tics endearing and because Richard is able to pick up on the right thread of conversation—data compression meaning fewer ugly server storage buildings—and seal the deal with a handshake. Plus, the subsequent scene of Richard struggling to carry the margarita mixer and hold it while the cashier babbles about his own startup experience proves Thomas Middleditch is capable of physical comedy, which is always a plus.

Richard going off on his own also lets the rest of the cast gel further as an ensemble, with riffs dedicated to Gilfoyle’s status as an illegal alien and the hunt for a new company name. The dynamic that Martin Starr and Kumail Najiani have developed is one of the great early joys of Silicon Valley, and Zach Woods slots easily between them as a sounding board for their mutual contempt. The writing staff knows how to write for all three of these characters right out of the gate, and Mike Judge and company’s dialogue takes on an almost clockwork-like rapport. Gilfoyle mocks the idea of citizenship (“Your borders are a construct”), Dinesh gets incensed and starts insulting his country (“You know who else is Canadian? Justin Bieber. The Hitler of music”), and then Jared tries to weakly patch things up with a nebbish remark (“Hitler played bassoon. So technically Hitler was the Hitler of music”).

It’s when both sides come back together that the episode becomes truly energetic. Richard’s assumption that the deal was finalized when it wasn’t collides with Erlich’s aggressive PR approach, and Arnold bellows at Richard, assuming he’s been duped as to the status of his company. Richard tries to cover but—in a beautifully constructed joke—Dinesh’s bitterness over Gilfoyle’s citizenship comes out at exactly the worst time for Richard, stoking Arnold’s loathing of illegal immigrants and leading to threats of legal action. So far, keeping Richard in a state of permanent scramble works well for Silicon Valley, as his efforts to smooth over the situation lead him first to utter despair and then to a display of machismo that only yields the threat of a beating. (Again, Dinesh yields the best reactions to Richard’s inability to think on his feet: “Why did you say that was your address? Say any other address!”)

Arnold follows through on his threats, though the reality of the incubator turns out to be far from what he was expecting: a cluttered house with four guys stammering their names in an effort to seem human to an attacker. (Richard: “Richard.” Jared: “Donald.” Dinesh: “Gilfoyle.”) Once he sees that Richard is the farthest thing from a billionaire, Arnold’s anger cools, and the two are able to return to their early rapport. The matter of the name resolves a bit too neatly, as Richard’s able to negotiate back down to the $1,000 price, though it’s how he almost blows it by playing too tough that makes the resolution work. It’s a follow-up to the lesson he learned last week: He needs to be tough in some situations, but there are others where it may be better just to be himself.

Certainly Peter Gregory succeeds by being himself, as he expertly commands Silicon Valley’s first subplot unaffiliated with Richard’s algorithm. His company is approached by two business owners who need an emergency cash infusion, but mentions of deadlines and layoffs don’t seem to get through to Peter. The reason? He passed Burger King earlier that day and has been thinking about it all morning, realizing that he doesn’t know anything about their products: “And their selection consists of burgers, of which they are ostensibly king.” Dispatching an employee to buy one of everything, he assembles the menu in front of him as if he’s translating an ancient text, laying out the language of fast food. (Say what you will about the product placement, but it’s vastly more subtle than Burger King’s most memorable appearance on a sitcom. “It’s a wonderful restaurant!” “It sure is.”)

While this plot could just be an excuse for Peter to act like an eccentric genius, the reason why it works is because it nails the latter part of that sentence. From the minor detail of the sesame seeds that feature on the majority of Burger King meals, Peter’s able to cross-reference that with his scientific and market knowledge to figure out which country’s crops will not be decimated by cicadas in the near future, and uses that to make an Indonesian agricultural investment. The end result? More than enough to cover a bridge loan to the Astrofile representatives. It’s a fun character piece for Richard’s primary investor and an encouraging sign that the show can tell stories outside of the Pied Piper arc when it wants to.

“Articles Of Incorporation” also proves that there’s a degree of surreality built into Silicon Valley, which it unlocks by turning Erlich loose. Convinced that he needs to recreate the early success of naming Aviato during a vision quest, Erlich takes the incubator’s mushroom stash and heads out into the desert to devise the right name. T.J. Miller is an assertive enough performance that he doesn’t need the rest of the cast to make an impression, and his frenetic monologue—accentuated by a CGI sea of swarming product icons—is a shot of weirdness that livens up talk of investors and algorithims. Plus, he returns to the Hacker Hostel dragging along theories of the universe and an Amber Alert, a move that teaches Richard another valuable lesson: even in the best plans, there’s always an element of chaos.

Stray observations:

  • Speaking of product integration, be sure to check out this excellent essay on the subject from last week by my colleague Myles McNutt.
  • Pied Piper not only has a name, it now has a website. It’s worth checking out, if only for the bios that were obviously designed as if the characters wrote them themselves.
  • Proposed alternate company names: Tinitron, SmushIt, Kontractor, Kontraktor, Wane Maker, Make It Wane, It’s Wane-ing Men, Diminisher, The Wee Machine, Squinch, Dwarf-It. (None of those names appear to pass Erlich’s test of saying them mid-orgasm, one of “Articles Of Incorporation’s” funniest moments.)
  • No physical Gavin presence this week, but he makes his presence felt through a video promoting Nucleus that betrays his overall disinterest in doing good: “If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller. And hunger. And... AIDS.”
  • Dinesh on the Pied Piper logo: “It looks like a guy sucking a dick, with another dick tucked behind his ear for later. Like a snack dick.”
  • “Since when do we have an intern program?” “We don’t. And when Keith finds that out, it’s going to be a very valuable business lesson for him.”
  • “Time is a sphere, and I have been reincarnated in the same time at which I exist!” Oh, for a philosophy debate between Erlich Bachmann and Rustin Cohle.   

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