'Start-Ups: Silicon Valley' Is Your New Hate-Watch

Richard Lawson
'Start-Ups: Silicon Valley' Is Your New Hate-Watch

First off, it should be made clear that the term "hate-watch," never very likable to begin with, has become overused and has mostly ceased to mean anything. Really, after a certain point you're just watch-watching something, aren't you? I know that Once Upon a Time is a deeply bad show, but in truth I'm not "hate-watching" it, not two seasons in. I just watch it. And enjoy it. So there. That said, good grief do I hate Bravo's new reality show Start-Ups: Silicon Valley and boy oh boy can I not wait to watch every single episode. It's the most invigoratingly awful thing that Bravo has released in quite some time, and just might bring me back to a network I've mostly abandoned.

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The main draw of Start-Ups' hideousness is that its central premise — the show claims to be a depiction of the fast-paced, youth-centric Silicon Valley tech world of bloggers, hackers, VCs, and innovators — hits so far off the mark from the reality of Silicon Valley that the whole endeavor looks and sounds like bizarre community theater. None of these kids seem to know how to work a computer, let alone actually compete with the Stanford grads and garage-tinkering future Steve Jobses milling about San Francisco. But that's what makes it so fun! These dopes can play dress up and pretend they're at fancy tech parties, just like the Gallery Girls pretend they're actually part of the art world or the Real Housewives of anyplace think they're high society dames, and we can chuckle and be reassured that the real world doesn't actually look like this.

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Which isn't to say that the actual Silicon Valley isn't a nightmare full of graspers and hucksters and all manner of people you wouldn't want to meet at a party. It most certainly is. But it is at least, hopefully, a smarter and more competent place than the kids on this show make it out to be. (Certain real-life parties excepted, of course.) Because boyyy howdy do these particular folks make routine fools of themselves in just the first episode. They treat the industry like a splashy/trashy frat party, which is never the vibe I've gotten from Silicon Valley.  (Remember: It's nerds. Nerds with money, yes, but nerds nonetheless.) In last night's big houseparty set piece, you got the distinct impression that it was a mansion full of wannabes, all these not-bright-enough post-college kids pretending for the cameras, thinking they're people, when the people they're pretending to be would never actually be caught dead doing any of the things they were doing. It's a pastiche or approximation of the Bay Area tech industry that's discordantly off, and thus striking to behold.

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Like any good Hindenburg of a reality series, Start-Ups is chock-full of colorful characters. There's David, the swishy gay developer/programmer/whatever who recently lost a bunch of weight and has since had lots of "work done," including a nose job and a hair transplant. The most he accomplishes in the first episode is getting a particularly gnarly looking spray tan. There's Sarah Austin, a YouTuber who claims to have invented "life-casting," which is not really something that anyone should want to take credit for. Best of all, though, are Hermione and Ben Way, British siblings with a strange Parent Trap-esque backstory — separated by divorce, reunited years later in Thailand — who have teamed up to become movers and shakers in the dog with a blog-eat-dog with a blog world of San Francisco tech.

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I hope you'll forgive me for insinuating such an untoward thing, but there's something, uh, a little off about Ben and Hermione's relationship. Y'know, like how Hermione wears a sheer top with no bra while cleaning in front of her brother. That kind of off. Maybe it's because they weren't really raised as brother and sister, but they're a little close, is what I'm saying. Of course that subject will likely not be broached at all on the show, it's one of society's last taboos (and for good reason), but the latent and unsettling hint of it adds interesting and shiver-inducing spice to the mix. In a bigger and more obvious sense, Hermione and Ben both boast that wonderful combination of ambition and cluelessness that fuels any good reality star. They really want to act like they have swagger while mingling at parties or pitching useless apps to venture capitalists, but they've no idea how to actually do that. Plus they seem scattered and overextended — Ben says they have 43 active businesses — which, in Bravoworld, really means they don't want to focus or work too hard on anything; they'd rather the success and fortune and, most of all, the societal respect simply be handed over to them. They are made of the same stuff as Bravo's greatest characters, hubristic strivers with crippling lazy streaks all swaddled in anxious arrogance. They will likely be wonderful to watch. Oh, and right, Sarah has some sort of romance thing with Ben, which Hermione clearly disapproves of, that should make for uncomfortable television somewhere later in the season.

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Which, of course, I will watch in its wretched entirety. It might be my exact distance from, or proximity to, this particular world that makes the show such a terrifying delight for me — I'm not in tech, but I know people who are, or who at least cover it — but even if you (blessedly) have no connection to the appsburg empire (har har) whatsoever, I say give the show a shot. It's been a long while since a reality show hooked me so quickly. Sure the current late-run, autumnal seasons of Real Housewives might have their moments. And yeah those Shahs of Sunset sure do act silly. But Start-Ups: Silicon Valley is of a special, rarefied breed. I daresay that not since my beloved NYC Prep has a Bravo pilot tickled me so. Though, I never "hate-watched" NYC Prep. No, that was something different. But this show? The word hate might apply, yes. And it may bring me back into the non-competition reality fold, a place I thought I'd abandoned for good. How can I resist? After all, what would become of all this awful if there was no one around to watch what happens.