May 17, 2016 · 3 minutes

This week, I excitedly tuned into HBO’s Silicon Valley to find out the answer to the big question reviewers puzzled over last week: Did Richard intentionally unveil his skunkworks plan in some masterstroke of corporate manipulation?

The answer: Uh, maybe? In the opening scene of the episode, Richard rediscovers his long lost testicles and does what I wrote he should have done an episode ago: Threatens to quit if he can’t build his platform and take his team with him. He wins! Before… faceplanting into the desk.

“That was pretty badass Richard, until it wasn’t.”

And that’s Richard in a nutshell.

The other day I joked that we’re going to have to just start calling “HBO’s Silicon Valley” simply Silicon Valley, because at times it’s getting so eerily close to reality, especially this season. But watching last week’s episode, it struck me that exactly one part of the show is totally unbelievable: Richard.

We are always told Richard is a genius programmer, but we almost never see evidence of it. Granted, that’s a hard thing to show in a thirty minute HBO sitcom. But more annoying is the insane inconsistency in his character. Last week he struggled to be even as confrontational as a four year old when faced with losing everything he has worked so hard for, suddenly in this week’s episode he’s a different human being. Last season, he was so inept and insecure he gave away much of his algorithm to his competitors. Next week, he’ll be butt-hurt he can’t be CEO.

It would have been more believable if Richard had planned the entire skunk works operation as a ruse to suddenly have Jack over a barrel. It would have been a bizarre circuitous route to having the same “Ok, if I can’t build the platform then I quit” conversation he should have had the day before. But at least it explains why someone is so utterly non confrontational he erodes his own stock value by planning the world’s most passive aggressive coup, suddenly pulls a dramatic power play to get his way.

I wish Richard were merely flawed: A Zuckerbergian genius who has trouble with his EQ perhaps. Or someone who circumstances are always building up and tearing down. Or someone who is continually making two steps forward, even if there’s an occasional one step back. Instead, Richard comes across as the chew toy of the writers room. The pawn needed in a scene that’s great role is lampooning or skewering whoever deserves mocking this week: VCs, founders building a moustache app, Gavin, Erlich, Jack Barker. All of those others by the way are consistent characters. Richard is whatever the writers need him to be that week.

And to me, that’s what continually keeps a good show that I really enjoy from being a great show. Maybe the only thing. It’s not Richard’s flaws that keep you from rooting for him, it’s the fact that he doesn’t seem to be a real person. He’s supposed to be our everyman, and yet he seems the least real of anyone on the show. Over the top Gavin and Erlich seem more “real” because at least they are consistent.

That aside, episode four had several laugh-out-loud moments and the typical astute observations: The board table that’s made from reclaimed bowling alley wood, the designer who runs a concept meeting by asking Richard what “animal” his box would be. And board-level plot twists that are both dramatic enough to be interesting, but accurate enough to keep the shows accuracy chops in tact.


So far, it’s the best season yet.