'we've gone too fast for too long'
The Pivot – Silicon Valley’s Season Four Premiere
When we last left the Pied Piper gang in season three of Silicon Valley, we were in total comfort zone – the sale of the company to Erlich and Big Head ensured that the group of techie misfits had a certain control now over their destiny. Which is no good for television. So, the season four premiere of Silicon Valley on HBO this past Sunday aimed to disturb that comfort a bit.
In the season opener, Richard finds himself displeased with the direction of the now successful Pied Piper as a video chat platform. He pivots toward an incredibly idealist notion of “creating a better internet.” It’s enough of an earnest but goofy endeavor to put Richard back in the path of ultimate douche investor Russ Hanneman. Which equals comedic gold: I laughed more in the three-minute interaction between Russ and Richard than I have at most things on television this year. Pairing Richard with Russ in his quest for a better internet will make for an entertaining new arc this season.
Richard pivoting away creates another brilliant plotline for season four – Dinesh (played wonderfully by Kumail Nanjiani) becomes the new CEO of PiperChat. The AV Club’s review has it right: “Moving Dinesh front and center is ripe with potential; Dinesh is a bad person who manages power very poorly, [plus] Gilfoyle’s deadpan excitement about how this could fail is contagious.” The Dinesh/Gilfoyle dynamic is probably my favorite thing about this show, so I’m glad we’ll have many opportunities to see them interact this season.
The flattest plotline for me is with Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (played by Matt Ross). Sure, making his pilot fly back and forth to Shanghai a dozen times just to prove Jack Barker wrong is funny in its Seinfeldesque pettiness, but I’m not convinced there’s enough there to sustain an entire third arc – especially since none of our major characters are associated with Hooli anymore. It makes me wonder if the show creators simply couldn’t cut the wonder of Gavin Belson from the show and found some way to work him in. I hope Gavin ultimately crosses paths with Richard & Co. once again, because when Gavin and Richard are at a crossroads, the show is at its best.
Young and Menace – The Progression of Fall Out Boy
Unashamedly, I’ve been a Fall Out Boy fan for a long time. Ten years ago, I was front row at one of the band’s notorious secret shows, wearing battered converse and a lip ring. When the band suddenly dropped a new song this week via Twitter, I hurried and gave it a listen, hoping it would capture what Fall Out Boy captured back in 2005, when they paired those soul-felt vocals with hard-chugging guitars.
Of course, this new single, titled “Young and Menace,” sounds nothing like Take This to Your Grave (arguably the band’s best record, next to the mainstream From Under the Cork Tree, which gave everyone their favorite MTV-friendly single, “Sugar, We’re Going Down.”) This new track features an EDM-inspired, thrashing, noisy chorus in between lingering, vibrato verses of, “we’ve gone too fast for too long,” and “we were never supposed to make it half this far.” It’s a meta-commentary that lyricist and bassist Pete Wentz is known for, but it’s not enough to make this track feel anything like a Fall Out Boy song.
Well, not the Fall Out Boy that lives nostalgically in my mind. In terms of musical progression, “Young and Menace” is not a far cry away from any of the songs on the band’s last release, American Beauty/American Psycho, which produced some very radio-friendly, electronica-influenced rock. Each record after Take This to Your Grave has incorporated more pop and production value, and by the time this song was over, which one review claims “sounds like three bad songs put together to make an even worse song,” I had to accept that this top 40 mess of synth was the progression of a band who’s spent more time selling out arenas than playing secret shows. It’s the problem that most bands with staying power have faced: the fans only want the greatest hits, not the cuts off the new record. With music and memory so closely linked, musical evolution is damned: nostalgia is the driving force in a lot of the entertainment we consume, which places the artist’s new musical experimentations at an immediate disadvantage. We become an audience of crossed arms and thin lips, ready to hate it because it’s not the band we remember. And while “Young and Menace” is ultimately not the sound I want from Fall Out Boy, it’s definitely the sound of a band who’s perfected the radio single over 12 years, which is, regretfully, now a fitting sound for Fall Out Boy.
ADDENDUM: Moonlight Creeping In – Netflix’s Dear White People
I’m pretty ambivalent on spoiler culture. I love plot, but it’s usually character and good, weird jokes that keep me hanging around with a TV show no matter the genre. So right now I’m conflicted with how much to “spoil” regarding “Chapter V” of Dear White People, the new Netflix series that dropped yesterday. Here’s what I can say, about the show in general, and the fifth episode in particular:
1. The show stars Logan Browning as Samantha White, a media studies major at a fictional Ivy League university that’s caught up in intra- and cross-racial conflict over a blackface costume party thrown in “Chapter I.” She hosts a campus radio show that shares its name with the series.
2. Buy some Logan Browning stock. Like, yesterday. Her performance, which is confident and deeply charming, is a big part of what makes this show so easy to binge.
3. As of “Chapter V,” though, she is not the show’s MVP. That honor goes to Marque Richardson, who plays Reggie Green.
4. I said, goddamn. This man can act. And I say “man” because, even though he’s playing a college undergrad, dude’s got at least a year on me. You’ve seen television.
5. In this fifth episode, Samantha breaks away from the main group and the camera sticks to Reggie, Samantha’s best friend Joelle, and the other people in their circle as they bounce around campus looking for free food, hate-watch an urban drama at the local Cineplex, and end up at a house party hosted by one of Reggie’s white classmates.
6. Richardson plays Reggie as a barely contained force, and he finds ways to shrink Reggie in this episode as his character comes to grips with Samantha’s burgeoning relationship with a white grad student. With each tilt of his head, he’s playing the emotion of the loss, and the reluctance to recognize that Joelle would be more than happy to soothe his broken heart.
7. The party gets a little wild, and Richardson’s performance becomes a truly affecting display when the cops show up.
8. So, the episode ends, and I say to my girlfriend, “Jesus, that was intense. And really good.” And then the closing credits tell me who directed it.
9. Barry Jenkins. Yes, that Barry Jenkins. The Barry Jenkins responsible for the one thing that’s gone right in our simulation since the Cavs came back, the Patriots came back, and Trump came back. Moonlight came back, too.
10. Can no one stop Netflix?
above image: daniel benavides / flickr
 As of today, the YouTube trailer for Dear White People has about a 2:1 ratio of dislikes to likes. So, I’ll take that as a no.