My Favorite Current TV Show Character

All too rarely, a TV sitcom character strikes just the right chords, and manages to capture something special.  Think of Norm on Cheers, or Kramer on Seinfeld.

In my view, we’re seeing that happening right now with the character of Bertram Gilfoyle on HBO’s Silicon Valley.

dinesh-gilfoyle-featureFor those who don’t watch the show, Gilfoyle (who’s always called simply “Gilfoyle,” by the way) is a software engineer for Pied Piper, the high-tech start-up that’s always teetering between the promise of fabulous riches and impending, crushing failure.  He’s got to be one of the darkest, most cynical comedic characters ever written — which shouldn’t be surprising since he’s a satan-worshipper.  With his unshaven, shaggy dog appearance, his cut-rate glasses, his gravelly bass voice, and his utter lack of sensitivity to the conventional niceties of the modern world, Gilfoyle is always ready to convey a devastating, usually vulgar put-down or offer a crucial comment while coming up with a technological way to save the day.  Often, the target of his ripostes is his fellow engineer, rival, and foil, Dinesh — who’s also hysterical in his role as the hopeless geek who desperately tries to be cool and gladly follows all of the trends that Gilfoyle then punctures with deadly, deadpan zingers.

How can you not like a character who says things like “I’m not one to gush, but the possibilities of your consequence-free reality are darkly promising,” or “If my mother was naked and dead in the street, I would not cover her body with that jacket”?  Or engages in dialogue like this:

Dinesh: “Did you see that? She gave me her hat.”

Gilfoyle: “Pretend you’ve seen a woman before.”

Bertram Gilfoyle is a rare mixture of paranoia, unconventionality, casual disregard for the law, wariness, technological savvy, and general nuttiness.  Given what’s going on these days, he’s a pitch-perfect character in our modern world.

Graphic And Gratuitous

Kish and I enjoy the Sunday night shows on HBO.  The shows are addictive, but boy — they really push the envelope to a very uncomfortable extent.

This week, on Game of Thrones, we were treated to a scene in which a mother and her newborn baby are torn apart by a pack of trained dogs under the control of Ramsay Bolton, who is almost certainly the most sadistic character ever to be portrayed on a popular TV show.  In a partial nod to the sensibilities of viewers, the murderous mauling wasn’t directly shown on-screen.  Instead, we got to hear the screams and cries of the mother and child and the snarls and bites of the dogs and watch Bolton’s sick pleasure as he savored the carnage — which is almost as bad as watching the dog attack itself.

ramsay20and20roose20bolton20game20of20thrones20season206If you watch Game of Thrones, you’re used to seeing bloody death.  In last night’s episode, Ramsay Bolton also assassinated his father, another character threw his brother from a bridge, a knight crushed the skull of a drunken serf against a wall, and a giant swung a member of the Night’s Watch into a stone wall and tossed him aside like a rag doll.  It’s a show in which characters are killed in every imaginable way — stabbed through the skull, throats slit, poisoned, disemboweled, beheaded, shot with an arrow while answering the call of nature, you name it — and kids aren’t off limits.  Last season we saw a sweet young girl being burned at the stake at the order of her power-hungry father and another young girl poisoned as she was sailing home.  But still, this week’s scene of the mother and newborn being killed by dogs seemed to cross a line somehow.

Then, on Silicon Valley, which is normally one of the most hysterical satires on TV, we watched as the founder of a start-up tech venture talked to the company’s new CEO about a business issue while a ready-to-engage stallion graphically mounted a mare in the background.  The point of the horse sex scene apparently was to show the wealth of the new CEO, who mentioned that he’d paid six figures for the stallion’s impressive services, while the founder was visibly discomfited by the horsing around, but . . . did we really need to see that?  Couldn’t we have gotten the same message about fabulous wealth by, say, having the new CEO own a vineyard or a colossal yacht?

I don’t consider myself as a prude, but increasingly I think that popular entertainment consciously searches for new lines to cross and new ways to introduce graphic, gratuitous sex and violence in order to be shocking and edgy.   Such scenes usually distract from the storyline rather than advancing it.  HBO often leads this unfortunate parade.

I’m not going to stop watching Game of Thrones, but now that the story has moved beyond the book, I wish the show would dial it back a notch.  It shouldn’t just be viewer discretion that is advised.

Silicon Valley On The Scioto

I ran across this interesting article about a Silicon Valley venture capital stud who has relocated to Columbus, Ohio.  His company, Drive Capital, decided to move to our fair city, and he and his wife and kids came along from San Francisco to be part of the fun.

IMG_2108The article is worth a look because it gives a West Coaster’s view of what the Midwest has to offer from a business standpoint, and it is a generally positive take.  Often those of us who live in a place, particularly long-term, tend to focus on the difficulties, the challenges, and the negatives.  Andy Jenks, the author of the article, sees the Midwest from a different perspective and with a different set of eyes, and he sees . . . opportunity.  Lots of opportunity, in fact, and lots of interesting, well-managed companies that are positioned for growth.

Silicon Valley is an amazing place because of the amount of wealth located there, but also because the culture of investment and risk-acceptance and receptiveness to new ideas makes it an especially fertile place to start a business and work to make it grow.  But in the Midwest, Mr. Jenks has found that many businesses have a more practical focus.  Rather than worrying about raising the next pot of venture capital cash, they are focused on the nuts and bolts of their businesses and the services or products it offers.  And the article notes some of the challenges, too — Mr. Jenks has found that the notion that our friends on the coasts view Ohio and its neighbors as “flyover states” has some truth to it.

It’s nice to know that some venture capitalists are moving into the Heartland to help our entrepreneurs, and it’s equally nice to see that they recognize the opportunities that can be found here.  If we want to make our American economy really grow again, we’re going to have to take advantage of the opportunities found throughout the country — flyover areas included.  If the moneyed interests are looking for investment options in Columbus and similar cities, that’s a very hopeful long-term sign.

Silicon Valley

Thank God for HBO On Demand!

I missed Silicon Valley when the show was first aired earlier this year.  Over the weekend, though, I sat and watched all eight episodes from Season One in one sitting, with only an appropriate mid-season bathroom break.  It was tremendous, and I would argue that the final episode of Season One ranks as one of the great single episodes of any TV sitcom, ever — right up there with the Death of Chuckles episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the Seinfeld episode about The Contest.

If you haven’t seen the show, the plot is straightforward.  Four computer geeks decide to start their own company, with a product based on an advanced compression algorithm one of them has developed.  The show is a satire of the Silicon Valley culture — drenched in cash, but also insisting that it is altruistically making the world a better place — and is chock full of memorable characters and scenes.  It’s about time we saw a lampooning of the technology/money culture in America, and this show really delivers — with a few detours into Satanism, American immigration policy, technology shows, billionaire egos, and some other sources of hilarity.

The principal actors on the show — Thomas Middleditch as the vomiting software genius, T.J. Miller as the brash and self-deluding Erlich, Martin Starr as the deadpan, Satan-worshipping Gilfoyle, Kumail Nanjiani as the acerbic Dinesh, and Zach Woods as the boring but capable Jared — are spot on in their depiction of nerds and geeks trying to find their way in the cash culture, and the rest of the cast is equally good.  The writing is terrific and sharp.  If you haven’t seen it, give it a try.