It's only natural that the third season premier event of a show will lack some of the luster and excitement of its predecessors. By the time a series gets through two seasons, critics and viewers have had opportunity to pick over pretty much any theme or issue that's going to arise.
Attendees of the Season 3 premier of HBO's Silicon Valley Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in San Francisco's rapidly gentrifying Mission District said-- predictably-- that the show presents a nauseatingly accurate depiction of its namesake Northern California region. Which is also what makes it funny. "This is like a parody of our daily life," said an attendee Thursday who described herself and her spouse as "Silicon Valley people."
The first episode was entertaining enough, including such gems as a car crashing into a robotic deer roaming near the Stanford University campus. And - predictably - the question has already arisen of what viewers can expect with regard to the show's representation of women engineers. Answer: not much.
The Hollywood Reporter pointed out that no new female engineers make appearances. The first season had none. The second season had one, who according to the Reporter makes an appearance in early Season 3 episodes that is "brief and her exit seems final."
The predictable question to ask, then, is if later episodes of Season 3 will introduce any fresh blood along these lines. The answer is no, actor Thomas Middleditch told Inc. during a crowded open-bar cocktail party after the premier. Call it a non-spoiler spoiler.
"Are we not a looking glass to reveal what Silicon Valley is?" asked Middleditch, who plays startup Pied Piper founder Richard--essentially the lead role of the ensemble comedy. "Is it our show's responsibility for slicing out that one slice" that reflects an industry-wide issue?
"Suzanne Cryer doesn't fit the bill, and Amanda Crew doesn't fit the bill?" he said, referring to two of his costars, who respectively play venture capitalist and Pied Piper investor Laurie Bream and Bream's director of operations, Monica.
The exasperation of cast with answering questions about gender representation is pretty apparent. Middleditch's view is that the comedy isn't responsible for educating the real Silicon Valley about how to be more inclusive. His costar, Crew, expressed a similar desire for separation of her role as an actor from social issues prevalent in the tech industry.
Asked during a post-viewing panel how she felt about "representing the women of Silicon Valley," Crew told Reporter writer Scott Feinberg, "I'm not the face of women in tech." (Before she answered, Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Pied Piper programmer Dinesh, jumped in and joked, "I would like to answer that question!")
But inclusion is something cast and creators have considered in their approach to producing the show, in which characters are, for the most part, male and white. "I think we've done a mildly decent job of hiring female writers, and writers of color," Ars Technica quoted producer Alec Berg as saying at the South by Southwest festival in Austin last month. "Fifty percent of the outside writers we hire are women. We're not there yet, but I swear, we are trying."
That effort doesn't translate to the screen in part because of the real world material the show is working with, Berg said at the festival. "We shot some crowd footage at (the TechCrunch-hosted conference) Disrupt ... I have a friend in tech who called me, and she said, 'Those crowd shots are absurd, you didn't put any women in there at all.' I had to tell her--those were real shots. The world we're depicting is fucked up. Do we have a responsibility to make the genders on our show more balanced, when this is the world we're depicting?"
(Note: There is one benefit to this situation - the line for the lady's room at Disrupt and at events like accelerator Y Combinator's Demo Day is exceptionally short, as I can attest.)
The counter point to all the art-imitates-life talk is that the lack of female engineering talent on screen doesn't so much reflect tech industry reality as it amplifies it. The addition of a woman in the role of an engineer in the second season was lauded but some still wonder if the show might make further effort to be less bro-y.
"It doesn't seem like the show has addressed its problem of (kind of pointlessly) not having a female programmer to share in all the joy and jokes," writes the Reporter's Tim Goodman in his review of the new season. "If Pied Piper is taking the next step in expansion, it will need more programmers, and getting the female perspective seems a no-brainer for fertile comedic opportunity."
Maybe Silicon Valley's creators and cast worry about new characters breaking the chemistry they've been building since 2014. Then again, as Goodman points out, Pied Piper is poised for expansion. The new season picks up from the second season's firing of Richard as CEO with the introduction of a new guy who will clearly change how the startup operates, so the opportunity to introduce a little variety is there.
The show has done a good job of showing how relatively homogeneous engineering teams can look and found plenty of humor in that theme. And yeah, it's true-- the tech world has a way of looking like a bunch of white and Asian guys in front of computers, though that doesn't mean other groups don't have a presence. A little more heterogeneity wouldn't turn the the comedy into a humorless work of social commentary, and it's something that honestly wouldn't surprise many viewers.