Silicon Valley

The Guessing Game

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I suppose the easiest way of explaining the Emmy awards is to say that they’re like the Oscars, but for Television. There is a Television Academy in Los Angeles, similar to the Motion Picture Academy, which honours the best of Prime Time Television. The awards are determined in an identical manner as well, through peer voting. The Emmy awards differ from the Oscars however, in the manner in which the votes are cast. Unlike the Oscars, where every voting member of the Motion Picture Academy (which is roughly about six thousand member strong) gets to vote in all the categories, the members of the Television Academy are split into groups based on the expertise. So in essence, actors vote for acting categories, writers for writing categories and so on, automatically making the voter group smaller, and the awards, very competitive. As if that’s not hard enough, the quality of television these days ensures that the difference between an Emmy and second place would have only been the barest of margins.

The nominations this year have been mostly predictable, like Game of Thrones finding itself nominated in a whopping twenty three categories, but with a few surprises, like Aziz Ansari being nominated in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category, as well as his show Master of None, being nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series. If Aziz Ansari wins, he will be the first of South Asian descent to win an Emmy in the lead comedy actor category (he’s the first to even be nominated), but faces stiff competition with the likes of Jeffrey Tambor (who plays a woman, Maura Pfefferman, in Transparent) and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) also vying for the honour.

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The Night Manager found itself in the honours list as well, with the show being nominated for Outstanding Limited Series, and its leads, Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman nominated for acting honours. It’s hard to say if they’d win though, because non-Americans haven’t really had the greatest runs in the Emmys, and also because People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story is in the same category. People vs OJ Simpson scored twenty two nominations, making it second only to Game of Thrones with respect to the volume of nominations, so while I have a great deal of love for The Night Manager, I won’t be putting my money on them.

This year also saw The Americans finally being given the nominations it deserved after three years of being in the Emmy snub list. The show has been nominated for Outstanding Drama, and the leads, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys have both been nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actress and Actor in a Drama Series categories. Keri Russell is up against some stiff competition with Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), Taraji P Henson (Empire) and Robin Wright (House of Cards), and so is Matthew Rhys, who is competing with the likes of Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot).

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I hope The Americans win an award this year, not because the performances and writing were better than that of their fellow nominees’ (I mean, did you take a look at that list? They’re all impeccable), but because The Americans deals with a subject matter that is complicated, and uncomfortable – it makes you empathise with your enemies, and turns your perceptions of the bad guy on its head. It is intense, for me, has taken over the spot which was filled by Better Call Saul as the best drama series on television at the moment. So could this be the year of the Emmy underdogs? Or will it be just another year where the rest of us television nuts wax lyrical about our deserving, off-beat favourites, but Game of Thrones and House of Cards split all the awards between themselves?
Probably the latter.

Tech and Chips

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}
Last week, I had all four of my wisdom teeth extracted, an occasion which demanded rest, food that had compulsorily been through a blender, a heady cocktail of pills, and finally, a comedy series that would help numb the pain. The show I watched through this week, swollen mouth and all, was Silicon Valley, and while it wasn’t as effective as ibuprofen, it certainly helped.

Silicon Valley traces the trials and tribulations of four programmers who are trying to make it big in the heart of the tech world. Richard Hendriks (played by Thomas Middleditch, who looks to be the most interesting mix of Hugh Grant and Hugh Laurie) is a programmer who works in Hooli, a software company in Palo Alto during the day, and spends his free time after work, building his own programme, Pied Piper, in an incubator house set up by a big talking, bossy entrepreneur who hasn’t really achieved anything, Erlich Bachmann (TJ Miller).

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Richard is awkward in the worst way, and completely incapable of holding a conversation with any of his co-workers, so when he tries to tell people about Pied Piper, he is ridiculed instead. His colleagues, in a bid to see if they can humiliate him further, test the programme, only to be blown away by the efficacy and complexity of Richard’s code. As more colleagues gather to see what the fuss is about, one of the business development associates , Jared (Zach Woods) sees the potential in Richard’s code to potentially alter the industry, and takes the matter up with the CEO of Hooli, Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). Before Richard can understand anything that’s going on, he’s whisked away to the CEO’s room, and is offered ten million dollars, on the spot, to sell the code to Hooli. Around the same time Gavin Belson makes the offer, a famously eccentric Venture Capitalist, Peter Gregory (played by the Late Christopher Evan Welch) contacts him, and tells him that he will fund two hundred thousand dollars for a small stake in the company, which Richard will be CEO of. Richard, who has never been confronted with this kind of money or attention, is forced to make a decision which can change his life – sell out, or believe that he can make his own fortune? Richard, after considerable thought and vomiting, opts for the latter.

The rest of the show is a painfully honest account of the amount of trouble involved in actually setting up a business. Richard has to deal with Erlich’s bossiness, the constant bickering of the two other programmers in the house, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) who are automatically absorbed into Pied Piper once the funding comes through, and the fact that Gavin Belson is working around the clock with a giant team of programmers to reverse engineer the Pied Piper algorithm.

The show has great comic moments, and the chemistry between Dinesh and Gilfoyle as two people who love to hate each other, is particularly excellent. Perhaps the only fault I can find with Silicon Valley is that despite the abundance of phallic humour, there is close to no female casting. There are no female programmers, and save for Peter Gregory’s assistant, Monica (Amanda Crew), and in the second season, Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) who plays Gregory’s successor. One of the show’s creators, Alec Berg, was asked the same question in a conference recently, and he insisted that the reason for that was because of the actual disparity of women in the tech world. It was evident that they weren’t in love with the world they were showing on screen, and he went on to say that it was screwed up (with an f).

I have to say though, as screwed up as his world is, it’s a lot funnier than the one we’re living in.

{Silicon Valley is available on the HotStar app, and is telecast on Star World Premiere HD}