Sonic Highways//Chicago

Directed by Dave Grohl
Originally aired October 17, 2014

SH_CHICAGO(2)As a fresh-faced Chicagoan, I was pleased to discover that my new hometown was deemed a worthy starting point for HBO’s latest documentary series Sonic Highways. Ostensibly a tour of distinct musical regions in America, each hour-long episode explores a handful of high water marks and hidden gems in each particular area. The episode on Chicago begins by noting the city’s rich diversity, it’s place in the pantheon of rock history and notoriety nationwide as a working class hub for artistic expression. Some big names get checked early on: Etta James, Wilco, Kanye West. The series is astute enough to observe that while a select few artists will get their stories told here, Chicago is an eclectic musical town. Of course, all while this is going on there’s an ulterior force at work. You see, Sonic Highways is not just Parts Unknown for the curious music lover. It’s also an enormous promo for the new album by the Foo Fighters. Continue reading

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Silicon Valley//Season 1//Proof of Concept

Written by Clay Tarver
Directed by Mike Judge
Originally aired May 18, 2014

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In a twist whose very invariability is offset by its hilariously physical deployment, Mike Judge and company split the climactic weekend at TechCrunch into two parts. Considering the timing (HBO took Memorial Day weekend off), the heightened stakes should work in the series’ favor as the finale of this admittedly extra short first season draws near. Since its humble beginnings, Silicon Valley has charged forth with an emphasis on plot. While the writers have been undeniably successful in this area (from initial financing to high stakes competition in just 7 episodes), the pace has often left viewers wanting for real character development. For a series that seems oddly committed to both humiliating and highlighting its central collection of outcasts, Silicon Valley has done little to offset its own prominent stereotypes. To the credit of the writing staff, they’re stuck in a bit of a Catch-22. A realistic portrayal of the emotionally locked up and socially stunted doesn’t tend to lend itself to meaningful interactions or obvious growth. “Proof of Concept” attempts to demonstrate the vulnerability beneath the layers of snark and Red Bull. In many ways, having neglected to spend enough time with the inner lives of these characters, the results are unconvincing. Continue reading

Silicon Valley//Season 1//Third Party Insourcing

Written by Dan O’Keefe
Directed by Alec Berg
Originally aired May 11, 2014

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Where “Signaling Risk” delighted in skewing the traditional deployment of race in TV, “Third Party Insourcing” lightly teases the inherent competitiveness of misogyny while simultaneously providing eye candy for the series’ male dominated (and potentially sex deprived) audience. Milana Vayntrub cameos as Gilfoyle’s girlfriend, Tara, who’s described as an “Amy Winehouse-type.” While this leads to one of the best lines of the episode (“What does that even mean?” “Decomposing? Oh god…that was dark”), her presence is little more than a source of sexual fixation for the guys of Pied Piper. Sadly, the use of Tara as bait for an ongoing feud between Gilfoyle and Dinesh would still be misogynistic even if the results were funnier than they actually are. Regardless, the circumstances give Kumail Nanjiani a chance to truly shine as the internally conflicted Dinesh and T.J. Miller’s Erlich uses the opportunity to dress down perhaps a bit too much. Continue reading

Silicon Valley//Season 1//Signaling Risk

Written by Jessica Gao
Directed by Alec Berg
Originally aired May 4, 2014

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HBO has been flirting with brilliance pretty aggressively as of late. Last week, Game of Thrones produced arguably the best episode of its fourth season. “The Laws of Gods and Men” went just far enough to prove its merits without stepping into that rarefied space where a long-running, multi-arc series focuses in so extremely on one moment that it produces an almost hallucinatory state of association in the viewer. Had the episode been exclusively centered on the trial of Tyrion Lannister it may have reached the dramatic heights of Breaking Bad’s Emmy Award winning episode “The Fly.” The week prior, Silicon Valley writer Jessica Gao wrote one of the more curiously modern comedic takes on race with “Signaling Risk.” The intelligence of the episode is largely indicative of the new way TV talks about race. Its imperfection is a reflection of the difficulty faced by writers wanting to confront an eternally sensitive subject without being preachy or worse unfunny. Continue reading

Silicon Valley//Season 1//Fiduciary Duties

Written by Rob Weiner
Directed by Maggie Carey
Originally aired April 27, 2014

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While the first three episodes of Silicon Valley hinted at the series’ ability to be a stable if occasionally predictable dramatic comedy, “Fiduciary Duties” proves these early suggestions wholly substantial. In many ways, this development is both disappointing and enlightening. The episode’s irony is broad; its conflicts are, in contrast to previous episodes, relatively insubstantial; and its best laughs are found in its smallest gestures. Much like its protagonist, “Fiduciary Duties,” arrives at the point where it must make a crucial decision about what it wants to be. The looseness that inspired moments of idiosyncratic comedic gold ( “Always blue!”, “Mushroom stamp”, etc.) are filtered out by a tightness of script that better serves the style of programming (HBO’s unbroken 30 minutes as opposed to a network sitcom’s 8-10 minute bursts between commercials) and balances the gross caricature of the region/industry and its culture of leeches with focused intention. For all its successes at narrowing its narrative scope, “Fiduciary Duties” does take things rather slow. There are plenty of moments that eschew the bold satire the series has already become famous for in favor of probable absurdity. Or perhaps, having become fully acclimated to the series’ unique brand of humor, moments that may have otherwise stuck out as purposefully unreal now seem deeply embedded in the mundane madness of this world. The episode sets this tone early when Richard meets with his faux hipster lawyer who appears more interested in his collection of signed guitars than in Pied Piper’s possible success. He is the first of many (including Richard himself) to highlight the necessity of being able to explain what exactly the company does. The episode follows in the baby steps of “Articles of Incorporation” in asking Richard to do something seemingly straightforward which turns out to be impossibly stressful. Continue reading