The Silicon Valley of 'Betas'

Amazon's second original show drops the audience in the middle of the country's tech hub. Here's what the makers got right (hoodies, they're everywhere) and wrong (physical Bitcoins, not so much).

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
4 min read
Amazon's second original series, comedy "Betas," follows four guys in Silicon Valley trying to turn their startup into the next Facebook. Amazon

"Betas," Amazon's second original series, may stretch the truth when it comes to Silicon Valley, but it was dead serious about the wardrobe.

"The hoodie work on this show is spot on," said Joe Dinicol, who plays the leader of a band of tech-star wannabes in "Betas."

The show, which debuted Friday on Amazon Instant Video, turns to another industry town after Amazon's first series, "Alpha House," dove into Washington, D.C. With "Betas," Amazon put the spotlight on a city closer to home. Seattle-based Amazon was always mindful of getting Silicon Valley and the tech world right, said Evan Endicott, one of the creators and writers of the show.

Read: How Amazon Studios went from grassroots idealist to Hollywood threat

Unfortunately for Amazon, the characters aren't members of Prime, the $79-a-year two-day shipping service that includes premium streaming video -- which "Betas" watchers will need to pay for if they want to see more than the first three episodes. When one of the main characters, Hobbes, makes an impulse purchase online, he has to to wait a full four to five business days to receive his robotic vagina.

Josh Stoddard, who created "Betas" with Endicott, said replicating Silicon Valley and entertaining the masses was a tricky tightrope. "We wanted to get it right but we also wanted to entertain without alienating anyone," he said. "I like shows that drop you in the middle of a world you don't fully understand but have a certain amount of universals you can relate to."

One of which, apparently, was Amazon CEO and onetime Time magazine cover boy Jeff Bezos -- or almost, anyway. Endicott said he tried to get Bezos to appear in an episode. Alas (spoiler): He didn't succeed. Other Silicon Valley cameos are scarce, too, though the series did get a few big names onto the marquee. Moby shows up talking about sexual congress with an octopus, and Sandra Oh is in the wings to play the mom of one of the main female characters.

On the whole, "Betas" re-creates the aura of Silicon Valley while taking liberties to crack a joke or smooth over a plot device in a way that won't evoke eye-rolls from anyone outside the Bay Area.

Hoodies are indeed ubiquitous, for example. That's true. And lines like "I'm 35, that's like 95 in Valley years" harken back to comments made by then-22-year-old Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who stressed the "importance of being young and technical...Young people are just smarter."

But some details may test insiders' suspension of disbelief:

  • The idea you could get into a big venture capitalist's party by telling the man with the guest list that you're this guy:
  • Google co-founder and Chief Executive Larry Page Google
    Even if you look like this guy:
    Joe Dinicol plays Trey on Amazon's "Betas." Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET
  • One of your friends might make a bet with you in Bitcoins -- but would she pull out an actual, physical Bitcoin? (Physcial versions of the digital currency Bitcoin do exist. They sell for $9,999 on eBay.)
  • "I got a Bitcoin on Bollywood." Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET
  • Could Bi-Rite Creamery conceivably ever not have a line stretched around the block?
  • A typical night at Bi-Rite Creamery. Ann Larie Valentine/Flickr Creative Commons

To be fair to the "Betas" crew, the scene at Bi-Rite at the start of the third episode visually alludes to a teeming mass trying to get into the ice-cream shop. A drug bust interrupts before we can see the full picture.

And some of the tech jokes land well: "It's like Uber for weed. Doober."

It's unfortunate that the creators didn't come up with a better name for their own startup, a matchmaking social network that aims to connect people so perfectly they get off their devices and interact in real life. IRL would have been the perfect name. Instead, it's called BRB. (And BRB? Terrible SEO, if you can't get enough of jargony abbreviations.)

Given the Valley's storied past of terrible startup names, though, BRB may actually give the show another point of cred.

Ultimately, the success or failure of "Betas" won't hinge on Silicon Valley details. The setting is simply that: the stage the creators chose to set their characters loose and tell jokes. The characters and the jokes are what will make the show succeed or fail.

I'd bet a Bitcoin on it, if I hadn't left them all at home.

Notice any glaring inaccuracies? Leave note of them in the comments.