Critic’s Notebook: ‘Start-Ups: Silicon Valley’ and ‘LOLwork’ on Bravo

November 5th, 2012

When word got out about “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley,” the valley started to have conniptions. Among the more clever responses was a tweet by a TechCrunch editor: “Here Comes Silicon Valley Boo Boo.”

Bravo

The siblings Ben and Hermione Way bumble through a presentation after a toga party in “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley.”

Breaking news about the arts, coverage of live events, critical reviews, multimedia and more.

A sortable calendar of noteworthy cultural events in the New York region, selected by Times critics.

Of course the real geeks of Mountain View and Menlo Park are smart enough to know that reality is the last thing to expect from a Bravo reality show. What you expect is manufactured camaraderie and conflict, tears, cleavage and product placement, and when “Start-Ups” begins on Monday night that’s what you’ll get, along with togas and flying cocktails. Any new technology is strictly a rumor, and the only deal making happens between consenting adults at the toga party.

On the basis of a trailer released by Bravo, “Start-Ups” has already been criticized — and rightly so — for focusing on the lovely cityscapes of San Francisco rather than the flat expanses of San Jose, Sunnyvale and the other cities that actually make up Silicon Valley. The pilot has an aerial shot of downtown Mountain View and a few scenes inside the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto, but the dominant images are panoramic views of the sexier city to the north.

Also more than a little unreal, in Silicon Valley terms, is the homogeneity of the six-member principal cast, which is generally attractive — one woman is a former Milwaukee Bucks dancer — and entirely white; Asians and blacks appear around the edges as friends, bosses and hair and makeup women. Much of the episode is spent establishing the entrepreneurial bona fides of these six as well as the reality-TV personas they wear like wineglass tags: mean, vain, ambitious, alcoholic, gay, British.

That leaves time for just two significant scenes: the party, at which apps, Web sites and online shows (none of the six entrepreneurs plans to make a physical product) take a back seat to fighting, flirting and skimpy costumes; and an actual pitch, by two of the cast, to an actual Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Dave McClure.

The pitch is the episode’s high point, as the brother and sister Ben and Hermione bumble and brazen their way through a disastrous presentation of a health-and-fitness app that doesn’t yet exist. It begins badly when Mr. McClure finds Hermione, post-party, sleeping under a conference table, and doesn’t improve when he learns there is no product to look at, just a few screen shots on a laptop. Ben, whose explanation of the app is cut off by Mr. McClure, provides the pilot’s one laugh-out-loud moment when he huffs, “I found it slightly disrespectful, him just going through the whole thing and making his own judgments.”

Making its debut on Bravo on Wednesday night is “LOLwork,” another reality series set in the digital world. It takes us inside the offices of Cheezburger, a Seattle-based Internet humor publisher built on funny pictures of cats with fractured-English captions, and while its story lines appear to be as staged as those of “Start-Ups,” it has a depressed, workaday vibe that makes it by far the superior show.

“LOLwork” is about real people doing a real job. In the pilot the staff members of Cheezburger (its primary Web site is icanhascheezburger.com) are pitted against one another in a competition that was probably made for TV, but they’re not glamorized. We can see that they’re young, smart, prematurely cynical and fully aware of both the superficiality and profitability of what they do for a living.

In “Start-Ups” the would-be entrepreneurs describe their products in grandiose generalities: “It’s an app to help you live longer and stay fitter,” “It’s an app around personal goals,” “I want other people to have that same satisfaction that I’ve had in changing my life.” In “LOLwork” Ben Huh, the chief executive of Cheezburger, tells the employee whose idea wins the contest, “It was so bad that it was good, and ironically that’s actually the kind of stuff that works on the Internet.” You can practically hear the souls of his workers shriveling.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.