Silicon Valley Series Premiere Review: The Next Big Thing
Having lived through two tech bubbles in the San Francisco Bay Area, I've seen all the good the industry can do. But it's difficult to focus on the good when it's accompanied by a huge mountain of the crap that tech bubbles tend to create—an influx of entitled assholes, skyrocketing rent prices, biz-speak dropped into regular conversations, and all kinds of other unfortunate byproducts. It seems Silicon Valley creator Mike Judge shares my opinion, because his new HBO series treats the tech industry like it's his bitch and the result is one very funny show. And by pairing Silicon Valley with Veep, HBO may finally have a successful hour-long comedy block, something that's eluded the network for some time now. (Entourage does not count, Entourage never counts.)
What makes Silicon Valley so successful is the same formula that earned Judge's Office Space a spot on the "required viewing while smoking pot" list in college dorm rooms in the late '90s and beyond. It's the story of a group of little guys kicking shit in a world of big guys, Dave versus Goliath Corp., creative underdogs fighting against the only people who can finance their dream. And it tickles the tried-and-true theme that's been prevalent since the days of the Bard: to sell out, or not to sell out?
The guys we're rooting for are led by Richard (Thomas Middleditch), who could pass for a human version of a cold Chihuahua with all the nervous tics he has. Then's there's the crude Erlich, who runs a programming farm at his house, which he's aptly nicknamed "The Incubator" because he treats his recruits like livestock. Rounding out the team are Big Head (Josh Brener), whose head isn't that big as far as I can tell; Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), the token Southeast Asian representative; and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), a man who's as weird as his name. Right from the boot-up, these guys feel like friends who've known each other forever and spent countless hours hunched over laptops and eating Indian takeout in close quarters. Silicon Valley doesn't make any obvious effort to explain their various relationships with one another, which I appreciate; they just feel natural and established thanks to the guys' instant chemistry (Dinesh and Gilfoyle are particularly chummy) and the lavish insanity of the world around them.
As "Minimum Viable Product" began, the group attended a party thrown by a company that was celebrating a $200 million buyout from Google, and the stink of nouveau riche emanated from the TV screen to immediately lay out an "us versus them" scenario, and it was incredibly effective because Richard and his pals are now the good guys by default. Judge likes to make normal folks seem better than they are by surrounding them with awful people, and Silicon Valley's opening scene was brilliantly packed with truly terrible oxygen-wasters. Arguably the funniest line in the entire episode came from the nameless 20-something chief executive douche of the company that'd just been purchased, when he topped off his self-congratulating speech with, "But most importantly, we're making the world a better place through constructing [blah blah blah tech speak] Here's to many more nights just like this one. Take it away, my good friend Kid Rock!" It was a cautionary tale of what could happen to our heroes, yet at the same time, it was kind of exactly what they want to happen. To sell out, or not to sell out? That is the question.
Richard's chance to answer that question arrived when his incredibly lame Pied Piper app, which is ostensibly used by songwriters to scan the cloud for evidence that they're violating copyrights, caught the eye of a few engineers because of its badass compression algorithm. That started a bidding war for Richard's code between Gavin Belson, Richard's boss at the Google-y Hooli, and Peter Gregory, a bizarre venture capitalist who encourages kids to drop out of college. The situation transformed Silicon Valley from amusing send-up of the audacious tech industry to a fascinating look at the personal stakes of those in the business. Belson wanted to buy Richard out, but Gregory wanted to seed Richard and help him develop a potentially billion-dollar company. I don't often shout at characters on my television screen, but I'll be damned if wasn't screaming for Richard to choose Gregory despite the fact that television logic dictates that's where he was bound to end up. My yelling is a testament to the scene that took place just outside of Gavin's office, and to Thomas Middleditch's ability to telegraph the spinning conundrum in his character's brain. That scene was amazing.
And so Silicon Valley's first episode ended with the guys doing what they normally do, playing stupid games, toking the reefer, drinking beers, and tapping away on their laptops. But now, the dreams (and nightmares) they've worked so hard for are right in front of them. With so much potential, an outstanding cast, and a sobering message, Silicon Valley looks poised to be one of the best new comedies of the year.
EXTRA LINES OF CODE
– That was Andy Daly of Comedy Central's Review as the doctor treating Richard's panic attack in the episode's funniest scene. He's having as good a year as Matthew McConaughey!
– Do Google buses really play looped videos of their CEO blabbing on and on about how great the company is?
– Holy crap those fake TED talks are amazing. I could watch them for hours.
– The sycophantic VPs of Hooli are frickin' scary. Is this a Fortune 500 company or a cult? "And then Gavin said, 'I'm not humiliating you, I'm elevating you.'" HA!
– Erlich: "Everyone involved in the music industry is either stealing it or sharing it, they're all a bunch of assholes, especially Radiohead." Richard: [Shakes his head in disagreement.] Erlich, restating his point: "Yeah, they're assholes."
– The series premiere is now available to watch for free on YouTube—I recommend checking it out if you haven't already:
What'd you think of Silicon Valley's series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?
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