Amazon’s Betas Is Basically Entourage for the Other Half of California

Second pilot order skewers Silicon Valley

Okay, so Amazon's new series, Betas, is maybe not the hole-in-one it pulled off with Alpha House, but there are some similarities, at least superficially speaking.

Both shows follow four offbeat guys who spend most of their waking hours together. Both have minority women in featured roles as love interests for male characters—without much going on besides their romantic lives. And both take place essentially on the front page.

Only where Alpha House takes place on the front page of the Washington Post, Betas (created by Evan Endicott, who worked on indie films including Sideways and The Descendants, and music videos director Josh Stoddard) is set firmly in the Financial Times (or maybe TechCrunch). 

The story has Joe Dinicol as a young entrepreneur named Trey out to essentially monetize his best friend Nash (Karan Soni as the whiz-kid programmer) with the help of his hacktivist buddy Hobbes (Jon Daly, who is excellent) and Mitchell (Charlie Saxton), who doesn't have anything to do besides chase after marketing gal Mikki (Maya Erskine), who is much, much too cool for him. With the help of George Murchison (Ed Begley, Jr., who is utterly wasted here), Trey hopes his company is on its way to the big time.

This, by the way, is basically the plot of Entourage, the tragic HBO series about how badly aspiring showbiz bros can go wrong when nobody repeatedly smacks them in the face. Dinicol is marginally more appealing than Kevin Connolly as E, but the central why of the character still goes unanswered—is he just here because he can wrangle his nerdorable friend, who appears to be 95 percent of the talent in the crew? Nash is the only character who gets significant screen time doing, y'know, work, which is what this series is ostensibly about.

The tone-deafness runs pretty deep here. Episode two introduces "Jordan Alexis" (Madeline Zima), a reporter for "Valleysmash" and a fairly obvious swipe at some of the few brave souls who've had the temerity to write about tech and have vaginas at the same time. Yes, way to punch upward with your trenchant satire, guys. When Evil Sexy Reporter invites our hero out to a "bar" to "have drinks" and "talk," he naturally assumes that she is anxious to perform the reproductive act. Imagine his shock when she does her job. Where, oh where, are the tech journalists who totally refuse to write about corporate misdeeds at major news outlets? Why can't tech make a place for poor, underrepresented men?

The show is best when it strays farthest from its premise—Daly and Erskine both have the same hilariously amoral take on the universe, despite coming from completely opposite directions, and the moments of screen time they've had together so far in the episodes we saw (1-3) are vastly more enjoyable than the forced romance between Murchison's second-in-command (Margo Harshman, whose femme fatale schtick is pretty good despite utterly failing chemistry with her lab partner, Dinicol) and Trey.

Part of what makes Betas less than it could be is that it comes not to bury Silicon Valley, but to praise it. Recently, The Economist had a perspicacious article on exactly how much the world's non-rich are about to start hating computer people like the characters we're seeing on screen, and that's a lot of the problem here—these people suck. They are self-indulgent, useless, and overpaid. Some of them are very bright and perhaps they'll make the world a better place, but a bangin' party every ten feet for guys whose software applications are intentionally hilariously trivial just seems like bad taste these days.

That's not a fatal flaw—bad taste, even when snobs like me refuse to defend it it, can lead to great things. But for Betas to make it all the way out of testing, it'll have to be a little less precious and a little more willing to show the consequences of life in the Valley bubble.