May 2, 2016 · 5 minutes

Last week, I hoped that this season of HBO’s Silicon Valley would focus more on decacorn jokes and less on dick jokes. (Both “d-words” cited in last week’s episode.)

This week opened with a testicle joke and the episode’s denouement included a horse penis. Such are the ups and downs of this show every season.

Still, easy phallic humor aside, the episode continued to skewer the industry brilliantly. This week, we’re taken inside “grown up” CEO Jack Barker’s version of Pied Piper.

If Silicon Valley were a lesser show that didn’t have an uncanny sense of the nuances of startup life, I would have declared this episode out of touch and dated. Consider:

  • The grown-up CEO is the one overspending on perks to attract talent, not say, the young naive founder who has never been through a downturn and thinks capital will always be available?
  • A company that is run by being more deferential to sales than engineering?
  • The declaration that Pied Piper’s product is nothing more than “its stock”?
  • The solution of selling an un-cloud, un-connected piece of hardware?

None of this screams “today.” And yet, the show has shown so much subtle understanding of what current startups are doing and how they are run (remember the moustache company last week?). That’s too easy of a read.

Rather, Jack Barker is a pitch perfect Bill Nguyen. You remember: The legend of a bygone Internet era who co-founded Color and employed every version of an outdated Internet company playbook? The guy who bragged about raising more than any other Sequoia funded Series A before it even had a beta? The guy who took endless vacations as the company burned? (Barker, too, keeps leaving the office for various social and rich guy obligations.)

And that in turn makes it a timely and sophisticated storyline. The guy who always lectures “the kids” on the excesses of the bubble, as he himself participates in the biggest sins of inflated burn rates and unsustainability. (Ahem.)

It also allows the show to probe into the startup “game” more than it’s been able to existing solely in Erlich’s shitty living room. The point at which a company stops being “yours” was already explored last week with Richard’s demotion. Now the company is going from a very personal extension of Richard to a company that is rolling the dice hard on growth, and could live and die easily in the process. If it’s the latter, the VCs and Barker and many employees chalk it up to the law of startup averages. Meanwhile, Richard as the founder who has let this all spin away from him watches something with promise die an unnecessary death.

I wonder too as Pied Piper becomes more of a real company, if the humor becomes more relatable. Mike Judge is in his wheelhouse skewering office life in general. We’ve often wondered exactly how this show is so popular to people who don’t work in startups and don’t get just how right on it is. But most people who work in offices can relate to a CEO who parachutes in and out and a sales team that takes over product-- whether that product is software, news, or anything else being sold.

Two other elements of startup life were skewered mercilessly in the show-- and they are two things many people are loathe to acknowledge for fear of blowback.

The first was some of the most fearless unsentimental skewering of tenants rights in San Francisco I’ve seen anywhere. While most tech billionaires and millionaires have gingerly stepped around the issue of evictions and tenants rights, knowing what a target they are, the show displayed the weaknesses of the “class war” that so many people have tried to exploit.

Jared Airbnb’s his apartment, because he couldn’t afford to live there while working at the high-flying venture funded startup Pied Piper, even coming off of working at the dominant public company Hooli. When he finally has enough money to go back, his tenant is squatting. His tenant gives this speech:

"Listen, I don't want to be a dick, but I can't afford to live around here because the rent is so high because of the tech companies, right? And you bought this place, because of the money you made working at the tech companies, so... it kinda all evens out."

That’s the logic you could read on any flyer in the Mission or comment section. And yet viewing it from Jared’s point of view, it’s utterly unfair. Yes he’s worked at a giant public company and an ascendant startup. But like anyone else living in San Francisco, he’s still barely making ends meet. There’s a difference between an employee and a billionaire founder of Facebook or Google or even a highly paid public company CEO. And in real life, the class war has mostly been directed at the Jareds not the Gavins

After the little speech, the guy squatting admits his argument makes no sense. Yep. There is a massive income inequality issue in the Bay Area but it’s spans thousands of hardcore homeless to billionaires and a problem with zoning around high density housing. The Jareds and the Airbnb guy are both squeezed in the middle, regardless of what type of company they work for.

The second awkward-- but so familiar-- dig was against Gavin Belson who is furious that his Hooli search turns up his Nucleus failure. He wants that changed but of course not without changing the algorithm. That would be unethical.

It would also be exactly what Yelp and others have been accusing Google of doing for years. Gavin wouldn’t be the first tech leader to hold him or herself to a different ethical standard than others. Not even the first this week.