This week, HBO paid a lot of attention to Silicon Valley. Since the season premiere of the series Silicon Valley a few weeks ago, the network has devoted its Sunday night 10 p.m. time slot to exploring the tech center with Mike Judge's comedy, before moving over to Washington D.C. with Veep at 10:30. On April 27, however, Veep went west with "Clovis," as Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyer explored the headquarters of a fictional tech giant, delivering a full hour of Silicon Valley-focused comedy. Anyone who watched both shows, however, may have been surprised to see that Veep was much better than Silicon Valley, beating the freshman series at its own game.
Of course fans of Veep should have seen this coming. All Veep really did was deliver a standard episode. It's just that for Veep, that standard is excellent writing, hilarious acting, and multiple jokes that actually make you laugh out loud. Even a show actually called Silicon Valley can't beat that. Veep's standalone episode was a funnier, generally more entertaining look at the world of tech than each of Silicon Valley's four episodes.
So how did Veep manage to beat Silicon Valley's home field advantage? It only took three steps.
1) Veep Let Everyone In On the Joke
A major problem with Silicon Valley has been its inside jokes. There are moments and characters that could mean to mock the real Silicon Valley, but people outside of that world just don't get it. Are the two assholes from Hooli examples of a common type of guy found in big tech companies or are they just random characters? What about Martin Starr's character randomly being a Satanist? Silicon Valley often seems to forget that it's a national series, not local.
Veep is set in Washington D.C. and focuses on the absurd side of politics, but you don't have to be an insider to get it. The jokes are broad enough to make anyone watching laugh, without pandering. Instead of focusing too much on any specific political process or issue, it focuses on the characters as they try to wade through all of that and more general concepts, like campaigns and the media.
That continued with "Clovis," as even the jokes aimed at Silicon Valley were more understandable, and just funnier, than many of those found on Silicon Valley. The head of Clovis was clearly a self-absorbed weirdo, Selina struggled to use his beloved new device, and the office atmosphere was exaggerated and made ridiculous through physical comedy. There was no subtlety to Clovis, nothing that required firsthand experience. Compared to the environment Veep's characters are used to, it was just a crazy place.
2) Every Character Had Their Moment
Both Silicon Valley and Veep have a very large, very talented cast. The difference is, Veep manages to let each member of that cast stand out in every episode, while Silicon Valley doesn't really know what to do with many of its characters. Selina always stands out as the main character, but played off everyone at Clovis perfectly, as Amy mulled over a job offer, Gary tried to hide his bag-induced injury, Mike seriously messed up, and Kent fell in love with Silicon Valley. Meanwhile in D.C., Dan tried to go as low as possible while Jonah struggled with the future of Ryantology. That and more happened in 30 minutes, plus a ton of jokes, without ever feeling disconnected.
Silicon Valley, however, can't even find enough for Richard's housemates to do. T.J. Miller's Erlich is kept pretty busy as the resident insane genius, and Zach Woods perfectly balances him out as the awkward, business savvy Jared. But what about everyone else? Starr and Kumail Nijiani are two huge talents being wasted, only showing up for the occasional punchline, yet we're forced to watch dull Big Head aimlessly wander around Hooli. Amanda Crew's Monica, the show's only main female character, seems to exist only to set up meetings between Richard and his new business partner Peter Gregory.
If Veep can dedicate enough time to all of its characters, even when they're on different coasts, so that they each get a funny, significant plot, Silicon Valley should find more for Starr to do than make jokes about the devil and Canada.
3) But There's Still Not Too Much Plot
All you really need to know about this season of Veep is that Selina is going to run for president. All you really need to know about the show in general is that most of the other characters work for her, and most of them are kind of horrible people. Most episodes contain standalone stories, with only a few season-long arcs, like her presidential campaign and Dan and Amy's battle for the campaign manager job.
In just four episodes, Silicon Valley has become very plot-heavy, and much of that plot is just plain boring. There are a ton of details about the Pied Piper business we don't need to know with full episodes devoted to them, the completely unnecessary Big Head storyline, and constant meetings and other things too boring to be livened up by jokes or amusing characters. We don't need to know every single thing about Pied Piper. Show us the relationships between the guys in the house, more of Monica, and some stories that don't revolve around a business plan.
By showcasing its jokes, characters, and simple plot, Veep proved that Silicon Valley the setting isn't the problem, Silicon Valley the show is.