‘Start-Ups: Silicon Valley,’ not so much
Bravo series promises us nerds who develop really cool things
November 2, 2012
A reality show about a duck pond should probably feature ducks. But reality shows tend to worry more about show than about reality.
"Start-Ups: Silicon Valley" is set in the subtitular hotbed of digital innovation, which the show's stars keep telling us is a place where geeks and nerds rule. But none of those stars are geeks or nerds. Instead, they're all the sort of good-looking, charismatic types who populate most reality shows about young urban professionals. In a decade or so, most of them could appear on "The Real Housewives of Cupertino."
Whatever makes Silicon Valley different serves largely as a backdrop to conventional scenarios of gossip, partying and backbiting. Since the regulars are so good-looking and charismatic, the show isn't painful to watch, but we see little we haven't seen before.
Premiering next Monday, Nov. 5, at 11 p.m., the series stars six people who have some connection to new digital ventures. The one who has been most obviously chosen for telegenic qualities is Sarah, 26, a blonde who is described as a lifecaster and video blogger and the founder of Pop17, a site that covers people in the industry. She allows the cameras to shoot her in her underwear as she gets dressed.
The second most atypically attractive cast member is Kim, 30,who is the digital sales director for Ampush, which, she says, "builds and optimizes Facebook ads." She says that her background as a dancer for the Milwaukee Bucks would be considered cool in most parts of the country but makes people in Silicon Valley take her less seriously. In fact, a background like that and the looks that go with it are a plus in sales jobs anywhere.
Dwight, 26, is a software engineer who founded an automotive search engine named Carsabi. Although his ability to write code for long stretches makes him a promising candidate for role of the show's token geek, he's far too good-looking and social to fit the profile.
Dwight is at first hard to distinguish from David, 28, a software engineer who has founded something called Goal Sponsors, which, he says, helps people with a goal find people willing to sponsor them. A former fat kid, he says that he's had numerous surgical and cosmetic procedures. He seems largely to have been cast to play the part of Sarah's best gay friend.
Sarah's frenemy is Hermione, a 26-year-old British blonde whom we first see in a bikini. Having worked as a blogger about the European tech business, she is now partnering on a start-up called Ignite with her brother Ben, 31, a self-described "serial entrepreneur."
The only segment in the premiere in which we actually see something in the process of starting up is Hermione and Ben's meeting with a venture capitalist named Dave McClure, an unkempt guy with a paunch and sandals whose looks and social skills actually fit the nerd profile.
Ben explains that Ignite is two things: a "real-time life-expectancy engine" that will tell you how long you have to live based on behavioral changes and a "piece of hardware that allows you to track and trace your weight." McClure fixes on Ben's claim that he has founded 43 companies, asking him, quite sensibly, why he hasn't made enough money on any of those to finance this new venture himself.
That's just one more bit of evidence that the stars of this show weren't cast for their credibility as entrepreneurs.
With that veneer removed, it becomes clear how much the episode resembles a "Real Housewives" premiere. The main action revolves around a party, in this case a poolside toga party at Ben and Hermione's.
We see two women working on Sarah's hair and makeup when David shows up to gossip and get a spray tan. She dresses in a bikini that's perhaps too revealing if she's trying to maintain the image of a superbabe.
At the party, Hermione and Sarah fight over an arguably unprofessional email that Sarah sent when Hermione hired Sarah to help on a project. Then Sarah accuses Hermione of being angry because Sarah "made out with" Ben.
This genre of reality show has a way of making unique social milieus — Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles, art and fashion workers in New York City, professional athletes' wives in Atlanta, mob-connected women in Chicago — resemble each other. One might think the shows reinforce an old truism: Deep down, we're all the same. But their real message is different: Deep down, we're all shallow.
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