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.

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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.

The Office Gets Ready To Turn Out The Lights

The Office is counting down to the last show of the series.  Kish and I enjoy the show, and we’re holding our breath that the characters we’ve come to love aren’t ruined forever as the producers seek to build tension for a big finale.

I may be the only person in America who was happy when Steve Carell left The Office.  I thought the Michael Scott character had become so painfully awkward and outlandish that the series was difficult to watch, and the Michael Scott stories were interfering with the show’s real strength — which is the ensemble of office workers.   Every moment of Michael Scott angst took time away from a Jim Halpert practical joke at the expense of Dwight Schrute, or droll Stanley Hudson comment, or Creed Bratton weirdness.  When Michael Scott finally left it cleared the way for the other characters to shine, and they did.

Many of the great American sitcoms have been ensemble efforts, rather than solo star vehicles.  Cheers, Seinfeld, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Taxi, among many others, all have been classic multi-character efforts.  What would Cheers have been without the characters shouting “Norm!” or listening to Cliff’s latest blowhard theory?  How much did Newman bring to Seinfeld, and the Reverend Jim add to TaxiThe Office characters are similarly capable of carrying their show as a group, and since Steve Carell’s departure the show has remained hilarious without the downside of the pitiable Michael Scott storylines.

This year, though, the show seems to have lost its way.  Pam and Jim are having marital difficulties, and a lbehind-the-camera sound technician has emerged as a suitor for Pam’s affections.  Andy Bernard, who may be the most unevenly written character in TV history, has gone off the deep end.  It’s as if the producers are searching for a dramatic conclusion — and I wish they would resist that temptation. We want to remember Jim and Pam as the young lovers who finally found each other or the happy newlyweds, not as some estranged couple fighting in a way that seems inconsistent with their well-established characters.

I’d be perfectly happy if the last episode featured more of the enjoyable antics of Dwight and Angela, and Oscar and Kevin, and Phyllis and Meredith, and the show ended with a Jim Halpert prank and Pam simply turning out the lights of the Dunder-Mifflin workroom a la The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as another workday ends.