It’s easy to praise beloved or empathetic characters, but who will stand up for the major turds? Even still, it’s particularly hard to stand out as a douchebag on a show like HBO’s Silicon Valley, which essentially explores an entire culture of them. But Chris Diamantopoulos somehow managed to make his venture capitalist character Russ Hanneman horribly unique in the the show’s second season episode “Bad Money.”
What a glorious thing to have Hanneman unknowingly scratch his orange McLaren with the rivets of his jeans while trying to win over Pied Piper’s Richard (Thomas Middleditch). That’s down to the writing, sure; but where Diamantopoulos particularly shined in the episode was not only in the manic delivery of his pitch to Richard — insisting that he’s never really had beef — but also in showing how fragile Hanneman’s suped-up persona is. When he convinces Richard to come with him, he jumps sideways to get in the car (in a blink-and-miss-it moment), and then loses his cool when he’s unable to handle the car’s gear shift. “D! D! Drive!” he sputters angrily, while struggling with it.
That, folks, is great physical comedy.
And yet, it was only our first introduction to Hanneman, whose turd status only escalated exponentially from there. Him actually feeding Richard some of that $800 beef was one thing, but it all hinged, again, on Diamantopoulos’ delivery and physical performance. Hanneman’s clueless arrogance surely came off as familiar to most viewers as being reminiscent to any number of real-life figures large or small. But that truth was sealed by the way Hanneman explained to Richard about how he brought radio to the internet, throwing his arms open wide like Cesare receiving his accolades, and then smugly sitting back after telling Richard to “do the math” over the fact that he was worth $1.2 billion twenty years ago, and he’s worth $1.4 billion now. Richard obliges him, and figures it’s not that great, but Hanneman isn’t fazed.
Still, Hanneman’s enthusiasm and passion pull Richard over to his side, and it was a perfect way to illustrate the strange charisma that huge jerks can still wield. It was also true regarding Erlich (T.J. Miller) who was desperate to align himself with Hanneman, but was constantly ignored (also proving that — even though I do love Erlich — jackasses repel one another). In fact, it made Erlich (the former captain of clueless arrogance) seem insecure and uncertain about what he should do. Basically, it made him like Richard.
But the best was still to come in “Bad Money,” in a scene where Hanneman insisted that he would let the Pied Piper guys get down to business, with minimal interference from him. As he took a loud phone call in the same room as Richard’s presentation, he then waved them on to keep doing their thing, never breaking his patter or realizing his disruption. In that moment, his total self-absorption was made complete.
Hanneman, in Diamantopoulos’ hands, was a pitch-perfect amalgam of the caustic conceit of Silicon Valley and the flashy, extravagant nature of quickly-made billionaires. Hanneman is part Sean Parker (at least, The Social Network‘s version), part accidental tech bro, and a part Entourage. All of that together helped Diamantopoulos create one of the most memorable performances on TV this week. Hanneman is obnoxious, but unforgettable. The great news for us (and the terrible news for Pied Piper) is that there is surely much more of him to come.
TV Performer of the Week runs on Fridays; you can read past picks here.