The most interesting female characters on TV are on an HBO show with an almost all-male cast
In praise of the surprisingly strong women of Silicon Valley
In this golden age of television, our favorite shows are simply packed with emotionally rich, well-observed characters. Many of the strongest are women: Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, Selina Meyer on Veep, Olivia Pope on Scandal, Claire Underwood on House of Cards, Carrie Mathison on Homeland, and on and on. But there are two exceptional female characters on a popular HBO show that rarely receive the attention they deserve: Laurie Bream and Monica Hall on Silicon Valley; the same show that, for good reason, frequently receives criticism for being too heavily dominated by young and entitled white males.
Let's look first at the socially awkward and hyper-focused Laurie, played by TV veteran Suzanne Cryer. She steps up to captain Raviga Capital after its billionaire founder Peter Gregory dies (Christopher Evan Welch, the actor who played Gregory, unexpectedly died in real life, necessitating this plot development). Raviga is the main investor of the Pied Piper start-up at the heart of the show, making Laurie a powerful figure. She regularly demands face time with Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and his gang of geeks, and has no qualms about putting them in their place. She removes the nervous and inarticulate (but brilliant!) Richard from the position of CEO in the company he created, hiring the more experienced Jack Barker as his replacement. When she realizes her mistake, she readily admits it, and places Richard back in charge. She is unafraid to act boldly or admit fault. She is a spirited female character who exists not as cheap eye candy or a boorish love interest, but as someone who challenges her colleagues, holds her own against her ambitious male counterparts, and takes remarkable leaps of faith in calling the shots that determine their career trajectory. In fact, Laurie quite often seems to be the smartest person in whatever room she's in.
Monica (Amanda Crew), too, is as whip-smart as they come. Despite being strikingly beautiful, and surrounded by countless undersexed nerds, Monica is treated respectfully by the guys. They know she's out of their league, and apart from a fleeting romantic suggestion in season two, there has been little exploration of Monica's personal life. Monica is all business. She supports Laurie in her challenging work at Raviga, and collaborates with Richard in launching the best possible version of Pied Piper. Monica, too, is not afraid to take chances. She cast a divisive, deciding vote in removing Richard as CEO. Later, she voted against Laurie at a critical board meeting in which Jack's uninspiring "box" idea was pitted against Richard's celebrated compression platform. Monica is also not afraid to be the bearer of bad news, such as when she flat out admits to Richard that she hates his interface — actually, his whole design of the app — after everyone else who received advance access to it in Silicon Valley sang its praises. This was a tremendous risk. But Monica had the courage to act honestly and instinctually.
It's true that Laurie and Monica are just about the only female characters of note on Silicon Valley. But an abundance of something doesn't necessarily equate to it being satisfactory. There are plenty of shows with more female characters than male, like HBO's Sex and the City, in which the female characters are caricatures of themselves. Having lots of women characters is not nearly the same thing as having great women characters. If Silicon Valley's Laurie and Monica met the female characters in Sex and the City, I have a funny feeling that they wouldn't know how to behave.
Close your eyes for a second and imagine Laurie and Monica engaged in a rigorous discussion about the future of Raviga. Suddenly, Samantha, Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda fly through the door, talking at full volume about Carrie's latest drama with Big, while simultaneously voicing their overwhelming desire for cocktails. Laurie and Monica glance up and display a flash of confused curiosity before continuing to crunch numbers. They are too smart for this nonsense.
While there's no question that the female characters on Silicon Valley are few and far between, it would be a mistake to discredit the show based on that fact alone. Laurie and Monica are bright, witty women who succeed in a competitive, male-dominated industry. Yes, they are technically supporting characters who don't have the luxury of appearing on the show's posters or billboards. However, they remain among Silicon Valley's daring, cutthroat leaders, and should be objects of admiration for men and women alike.