Silicon Valley’s final season is underway and everyone is already waxing nostalgic about the series’ impending conclusion.
The HBO show, which bills itself as a satire of the hypercompetitive startup tech industry boom, has historically been dubbed by critics and viewers alike as one of the smartest, funniest, and most underrated shows on television.
While all those things may be true, the world of Silicon Valley is also riddled with the same deeply-rooted issues that are rampant in the real-life Silicon Valley it alleges to be satirizing, especially when it comes to toxic masculinity. Silicon Valley claims to be holding up a mirror to the sexist nature of the tech world, but evidenced by its onscreen portrayal of women (or lack thereof) and offscreen treatment of them, the series is merely just proliferating it.
The show has long been criticized for its overwhelmingly white, male cast and, particularly, for its lack of female characters onscreen. In an interview with The Insider, show creator Alec Berg addressed this criticism, stating,
“The idea that we should somehow portray the tech business as it should be as opposed to how it is, I think is horseshit. What good do we serve? If the show was just 50% women, what good are we doing? We’re just masking. Part of the point of satire is to point out the flaws in reality.”
To an extent, I could maybe understand where he’s coming from. By excluding women onscreen in the way they are excluded in the real-life Silicon Valley, showrunners are accurately capturing the current state of the tech industry rather than pretending the industry is something it isn’t.
But Silicon Valley doesn’t try to make any real point about that lack of women in the industry, nor does the series go to any great efforts to subvert the industry’s inherent misogyny in other ways.
The lack of female representation is evident in nearly every aspect of the show. The show’s executive producers are exclusively men and the male-to-female ratio of writers on the series is wildly skewed as well. And the female characters they do show onscreen are objectively few and far between. When women appear in the Silicon Valley-verse, they are generally less fully-formed and often written as a foil in service of better amplifying the hapless men that surround them.
Take Monica, the only female character within the series who could be considered a lead. She is a whip-smart, Princeton-educated venture capitalist who eventually becomes intertwined with the crew’s startup company Pied Piper.
Yet, despite having so much potential as a strong female lead, her character is primarily used as a plot device to move the story along. The Pied Piper bros are the ones with the strong rapport, the ones who constantly riff on one another. Richard hilariously fumbles through the latest setback while Jared looks on with wide-eyed earnestness and Guilfoyle jumps in with his signature dose of heavy sarcasm. They are all part of the joke, their camaraderie impenetrable. Meanwhile, Monica is relegated to the sidelines, only pulled in when they need a voice of reason or a swift solution (or to be punished with a front-row seat to the men’s bathroom.)
In addition to onscreen gender imbalances, there are also plenty of offscreen antics by the Silicon Valley actors that reveal their true colors when it comes to their views and attitudes toward women.
The most widely reported complaints behind the scenes revolved around former Silicon Valley star T.J. Miller, who abruptly left the series after season four amid rumors that he was showing up to set late, under the influence, or not at all.
Actress Alice Wetterlund made waves when she spoke out about “bully and petulant brat” Miller after her time on the series, noting that her turn as coder Carla was “kind of a nightmare.” She alleged that “pretty much everyone who had any power on that (almost all male) set, including the male cast members, enabled him and were complicit in his unprofessionalism” and they can “fuck off forever.”
(It’s worth noting that Miller has continued to stir up controversy since his time on Silicon Valley. He has since been accused of sexual assault, physically and verbally abusive behavior, and was arrested in 2018 after calling in a fake bomb threat while aboard an Amtrak train.)
Controversy has also followed Silicon Valley’s lead actor, Thomas Middleditch, who has continually made comments that are less than savory. When asked about the sexual assault allegations made against Miller in relation to the #MeToo Movement, Middleditch stated that it can be “kind of scary” to be a man in today’s world, “where an allegation can just pop up and then it’s really incumbent upon you to fervently defend your character.”
In case that wasn’t troubling enough, Middleditch has also recently created a stir with comments he made about his marriage in which he made it clear that he insisted on having an open marriage, an arrangement that his wife is clearly uncomfortable with.
“We have different speeds, and we argue over it constantly, but it’s better than feeling unheard and alone and that you have to scurry in the shadows.’”
His decision to enter “the lifestyle,” as he calls it, also seemed to coincide with his rise to fame.
To add insult to injury, he goes on to say that,
“Personally, [fame] is one of the trickier elements of it all, because Mollie doesn’t get that and yet she has to witness it. I’m like, ‘Come on, what about this chick who’s obviously really into me?’ And Mollie will say, ‘Yeah, she’s into you. Where do I fit in?’”
Whether it’s icky comments like Middleditch’s or gravely troubling allegations like those surrounding Miller, hearing such problematic reports can make it difficult to separate the entertainment from the actual people at the helm. After all, when a show is so objectively funny and smart and timely, who wants to grapple with its representation problems or its rumored sexism? But when viewers ignore the misogyny going on behind the scenes of our favorite entertainment, we are in many ways enabling it.
For their part, the creators aren’t looking to resolve the show’s perceived missteps. Berg said,
“Look, we’re not a social justice show and we’re not here to right the wrongs of society. We’re comedians. At a certain point, we’re trying to just make something that’s funny and entertaining. If it’s enlightening and pokes people to change their ways, great, but that’s not our goal.”
Silicon Valley airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.