Silicon Valley: "What's in a [company] name?" [TV recap, episode 3]


"Articles Of Incorporation" is the first episode of Silicon Valley that really gets room to breathe, allowing the characters space away from the crunch time of the story to bring Pied Piper to fruition.

This is a show with an eight-episode first season, so there isn't a ton of time to waste on the plot front—so long as this season builds to Pied Piper hitting the market in some kind of nascent form. But this kind of episode is a test of what kinds of story Silicon Valley can tell when it gets away from the Hooli/Peter Gregory competitive binary and just focuses on some kooky developers chipping away at making a startup into a formidable company that puts out a viable product.

It begins with Gavin Belson's way-too-early announcement of Hooli's compression algorithm competitor Nucleus, styled like the smarmiest self-fellating Apple intro video imaginable. ("If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller…and hunger…and AIDS.") Now there's a clock: Richard's company needs to get to market before Hooli does, or risk getting its thunder stolen by a primitive version of the algorithm that Richard foolishly forwarded to his brogrammer former coworkers.

But trailing off of last week's episode, when Richard couldn't deposit Gregory's check because Pied Piper isn't an official software company, there's another hiccup: somebody already has an irrigation company out in Gilroy with that name. To Richard, it's a total letdown, but to everyone else, it's a coveted chance to pivot to something vastly better than the t-shirts Richard shows off. ("It looks liks a guy sucking a dick, with another dick tucked behind his ear for later, like a snack dick." Everyone ragging on the company name is a great ensemble scene, since each characters gets in a unique jab. Jared has the highly researched angle, noting that the Pied Piper is about a "predatory flutist who murders children in a cave." Erlich assumed it was just a placeholder name, and has been embarrassed to tell anyone he owns a stake in a company with that name (even though he owns part of Grindr and a water fountain locator app). Dinesh thinks Placeholder would be a better company name than Pied Piper.

Discouraged but not undaunted, Richard sets out to negotiate the rights, and manages to iron out a highly beneficial deal, because the irrigation company owner thinks Richard has Asperger's and tremors like his son. It's a minor moment of triumph for Richard, who goes out and buys a margarita machine at BevMo for his employees. But Erlich, trying to boost his own profile more than helping the company, gives an interview to a tech blog where he states that he and Peter Gregory have billions between them and they're going to crush Hooli's knockoff Nucleus.

That presents two big problems. The first is that Arnold, owner of Pied Piper Irrigation, thinks Richard is some kind of billionaire swindler, and wants a quarter of a million dollars for the name. But the sadder development is what happens when Richard goes to return the margarita maker, and the BevMo clerk tells him that his mom put a reverse mortgage on her house to fund his inane and unhelpful parking lot app because he claimed to know the Pier Piper guy. The pilot put forth the idea that everyone in the Silicon Valley area, exemplified by Andy Daly's doctor character, has an idea for the Next Big App, if only they could get startup capital from a big time VC. The truth of my experience in the Bay Area isn't quite that complicated. Sure, there are tons of people who want to start their own companies, and mobile app development has exploded. But this scene isn't aiming for verisimilitude to the feeling that you would bump into an aspiring app developer anywhere in the Bay Area. The point is classic tragicomedy, resulting in the poor clerk's crushed expression when Richard unleashes the harsh truth of being unable to cash his VC money: "I need to return this machine because I am broke and I need money for food."

Ultimately, Richard charms Arnold when the guy sees the Pied Piper headquarters at Erlich's house. Instead of a big building like Hooli, Arnold reminisces about starting his business in a garage, and they settle on the original, rather cheap deal for the name rights. It's one of the few nice moments of recognition that the tech cycle is in some ways simply the next iteration of new businesses, with similar inauspicious surroundings. I was a bit disappointed at first that Richard hung onto the name, since the idea of everyone pitching ideas could have been a lot of fun. But then I started to see it as the first indication that deep down, Richard is able to summon the beginnings of a corporate leader. He doesn't have any particular reason for wanting to keep the name Pied Piper, except that it's what he came up with and he likes it. None of the others can come up with anything better, as that whiteboard of rejected names suggests. Richard wants Pied Piper to be the name, and like the stubborn minds of Gavin Belson and Peter Gregory, he sticks to his guns and finds a way to make it happen, proving in one sort-of insignificant way that he can conjure up the mettle to lead.

The Peter Gregory plot exists almost solely to examine a man so cripplingly brilliant he can barely interact with others while he does the human equivalent of compiling data in his brain before speaking. I think this plot only really works as a hypothetical first half, where at some other point in a future episode Gavin Belson gets the same treatment, as a way to explore multiple facets of billionaires who are removed from society because of personality differences.

It's now well established that Gregory falls somewhere on the scale, and that means that other people have to figure out how to interact with him. Last week Richard and Erlich watched as Gregory turned to Monica to state plainly how poorly a meeting was going and that Richard didn't seem to know what he was doing. This week, it's the poor, unknowing leaders of another Gregory investment, who sit outside the guy's office whiling away the hours until they have to layoff employees if they don't get a huge influx of funding, completely out of the loop on what the venture capitalist has up his sleeve.

Without the benefit of any logos (Mike Judge probably can't get any after Idiocracy so thoroughly skewered slogans and big brands), the Burger King sesame seed investigation loses a little pizazz, but it's all about that final turn where Gregory reels off the three main countries responsible for sesame seed production, the two with cicada populations, and the coincidence that will lead to a spike in prices. It's ingenious investing, even if it's slightly ridiculous, and it shows that there's something Silicon Valley can do outside of the Pied Piper app development plot. Of the entire cast, I like watching what Peter Gregory does the most, which in turn makes me sad that since the actor has since passed away, there won't be much more of his mentorship style to explore with this series.


Extra Bytes

• Gilroy, California, where the irrigation company Pied Piper is supposedly based, is home to the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which in my opinion is one of the strangest and best events in the state.

• Dinesh worries that inferior products that get to market first end up being the dominant platform. Gilfoyle counters, "Like Jesus. Over Satan."

• TJ Miller is so terrifyingly gross as Erlich that he should do nothing but coo "Aviato" in that creepy voice while waggling his eyebrows. The end of the episode that sort-of resolved his failed vision quest with comedic complication fell pretty flat.

• This is the first episode without Josh Brener as Big Head, but he'll show up at least once more before the season is out.

• The only, and I mean the ONLY, way that all the illegal immigrant jokes work is because Kumail Nanjiani is such a likable guy. The competition between Dinesh and Gilfoyle is the part of this show that makes me laugh most consistently.