There are two recent fictional TV shows that feature the tech scene in the Bay Area: HBO’s Silicon Valley and Amazon’s Betas. As I watch this show, I’m sensitive to how well they capture what it’s like to capture the bizarre, unique culture that is the startup scene in SF.
I just finished Silicon Valley’s third episode. So far it’s been funny, but not amazing. Some of the characters seem familiar but only caricatures of people I know.
The laughs are big but inconsistent. The first episode picked the right things to make fun of but the jokes were over the top (which is fine if you’re appealing to a wider audience but I’d have appreciated more subtlety). The second episode, however, had way more inside jokes (e.g. a BD guy talking about how VC’s don’t do DCF analysis); it got laughs from the startup kids in the room with me but less so from the non-techies.
Tonight’s episode swung back to the mainstream - it didn’t feel like it captured much of the real Silicon Valley, with the exception of the name brainstorm (It’s really, really hard!). It seems like the show is still struggling to find it’s voice. There’s a lot of humorous insanity in the real silicon valley - I think the show can go far by holding to a mirror up to our biggest dysfunctions and absurdities.
I ignored Betas when it first launched (this past November), thinking it was Big Bang Theory set in SF; I was very wrong. I burned through the eleven episode season this week and am glad I did.
Like Silicon Valley, Betas tracks a small startup team through their early ups and downs. Betas has fewer laughs but feels way more authentic. The writers clearly did their research. The details are perfect; the places they hang out, the jargon and apps they use, the business decision they face are all spot on. I’m not a big fan of the characters (I don’t think I’d be friends with them) but, for the most part, they feel very true.
Overall the show closely captures what it’s like to be in SF and striving to build a startup. The main characters can be annoying sometimes but it was worth putting up with them to see the tech scene portrayed so well. I hope they get a second season, I’m curious to see where they go.