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'Silicon Valley,' Season 2, Episode 5: Server Space and Suspended Disbelief

This week, the show gave us nerd rage. Don't ask us to suspend disbelief to Brady Bunch levels.


This was the first episode that really let us down. And it was weird. Devoted viewers have been lulled into complacency by the show’s constant attention to every infinitesimal detail, from the questionable fashion choices of Gavin Belson to Richard Hendrick’s on-point grammatical specificity.

Yet this week’s plot twist hinged on an event so unlikely, so out of the realm of possibility, that it yanked us right out of the show’s reality. It’s the kind of thing that rarely happens in modern comedy — once Generation X took the TV-writing reins, we agreed, as a group, to rise above the contrived Brady-Bunch-style plots that hinged on simple misunderstandings, answer our own questions inside the script and never ask the audience to ignore Solikamskiy-sized sinkholes in sitcom plots.

Oh, "Silicon Valley," you broke the pact.

Richard’s heightened stress, which has been causing him night-sweats, shows no sign of relief as circumstances ratchet up the number of fires he has to put out. As the show opens, he’s touring a possible office space, eyeing an idyllic and expensive loft that would not only provide respite from his increasingly heated interactions with Erlich, but would give him a bit of home-work balance if only by removing work from his home.

Problem number one: Everyone watching knows there is a third option — uglier, cheaper office space that still takes him out of the Erlincubator. Almost literally, every block of El Camino Real from Burlingame to San Jose has office space to let, pockmarked with startups announcing themselves with laser-printed logos taped to the doors of carpeted anterooms where motley collections of hopeful workers tap at their laptops on identical drafting desks bought off Craigslist from the last startup to inherit them.

But okay. We’ve all gotten roped into an unrequited real-estate crush that could have ruined us. We’ll buy that real estate is, in fact, crazy in the Bay Area and any office space could be prohibitive.

But then the main theme of the episode appeared, and we just had to throw up our hands in frustration.

The cloud company that was going to host Pied Piper, says Jared, has dropped their bid. "I’ve contacted five other Web service providers, and they’re all denying us."

"All of them – Rackspace, SoftLayer, Amazon – I mean, they can’t afford to lose Hooli’s business," he goes on.

"So Gavin Belson can just pick up the phone and make us radioactive to every single Web-hosting service?"

"It’s how these guys operate," Jared explains, going on to cite Bill Gates’ renting of every helicopter in Hawaii so no paparazzi could take photos of his 1994 wedding. (That really happened. Interestingly — or maybe only so to Jared — Larry Ellison later bought that same island.)

I spoke to an anonymous source who works at a well-known cloud computing company, and her response wasn’t even to be amused. "No. No way," she said, in response to the idea that a real-life Gavin Belson could demand her company cut ties with a competitor. Not only would they not give a crap about any single CEO’s temper tantrums, it would also go against their terms of service.

Plus, who would be able to keep track? With the sheer number of companies using cloud servers, it would be impossible to supervise to that level. And anyway, Amazon and Netflix are rivals in the streaming video space, yet Netflix uses AWS servers. It’s all very wheels-within-wheels in the real Silicon Valley.

Re/code staffer Arik Hesseldahl is our resident cloud computing expert, so I pinned him down and made him talk to me about Pied Piper’s scalability, which is exactly the reverse of our usual style of communication.

"The real problem with this idea of Gilfoyle setting up this data center is that they are not going to be able to scale. Their plan is to go to CES in January and get all this attention, and the infrastructure is going to crash under the load. That’s why you want a cloud-service provider — you can spin up a second ‘instance’ in no time, and you have almost limitless capacity."

It’s a lot like talking to Gilfoyle. I smile and nod and take notes a lot, and then smart words happen. But basically, he’s saying that the array Gilfoyle is building is possible, makes technical sense and would work for the company as it stands now, but that there’s no way he’d be able to build out the additional servers needed once it starts getting a significant customer base.

(Interestingly — or perhaps only to me, because I’m a little obsessed with Zynga — that game company started out renting server space, then spent $100 million to build its own, and is now going back to renting that space as a $100 million cost cut. It’s really not fiscally viable to Gilfoyle your own servers up.)

So it was frustrating to be asked to suspend disbelief and just accept that Gavin is this guy with more personal fire-power than a Benioff/Musk hybrid. And to be able to see so clearly where the plot is likely to head. It gave us …

On the positive side, it was fun to see the whole startup-in-a-garage plot mirroring Google so closely, especially when it reminded us of this story from some handsome devil at Mashable.

And the Re/code staff is split between being angry that we laughed at the obvious monkey-masturbating-and-flinging-poo gag, and accepting that we had no choice but to laugh at same.

But we are really hoping for a smarter plot twist next week. Please. Please, people.

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