Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

'Silicon Valley' Is a Show of the Times, But Season 2 Still Needs to Make Progress

Photo of Laya Maheshwari By Laya Maheshwari | Indiewire June 3, 2014 at 11:13AM

Mike Judge has often mined his life to find inspiration for art, and he seems to have pulled it off again with season one of "Silicon Valley."
0
Silicon Valley

"Jobs was a poser. He didn't even write code."

With this offhand dismissal of Steve Jobs, Apple's iconic cofounder, Richard Hendricks announced himself in the pilot of "Silicon Valley." The protagonist of Mike Judge's new comedy -- that aired on HBO and ended its first season this Sunday -- is a cerebrally gifted yet socially awkward programmer, a nebbish among nerds. Hendricks has an idea for an app called "Pied Piper" that could help musicians find out if they are infringing on any copyrights, but what sets the Valley abuzz is the revolutionary compression algorithm driving his app's search engine. Soon, Hendricks is in over his head as two egomaniacal investors fight over him and his creation. He has a choice: a $10 million buyout and a comfortable life thereafter, or an investment of $200,000 to continue building Pied Piper. He refuses to let go of his baby, but soon realizes that turning his idea into a market-ready product has headaches of its own.

52-year old Judge has often mined his life to find inspiration for art. The time he spent slogging in a cubicle in Bay Area in the ‘80s gave him enough material for 1999's "Office Space," a comedy that spoke to the ennui of white-collar employees and, 15 years later, is recognized as a cult classic. Several characters for "King of the Hill" came from Judge's recollections of people who lived around him in Texas. Even the name "Butt-Head," from his memorable animated series for MTV, is a portmanteau of the nicknames of two childhood friends. Thus, it's no wonder he wanted to make a show about Silicon Valley. He did, after all, pack all his possessions into a Toyota pickup and move to Sunnyvale in 1987.

Just like "Office Space," Judge's new endeavor -- that regular collaborators John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky helped create -- is steeped in its universe, the jargon and characters seemingly plucked from memory or life. He even claims, "You can't call it satire when you are showing it like it is." Several plot points evoke headlines of today, or potential news stories for tomorrow. For example, a key track in the sixth episode involves the team's business manager getting stuck inside an automated car, thereby ensuring no viewer can feel happy about the upcoming Google driverless car.

I've often felt Judge's comic sensibilities aren't suited for film. Even at its strongest, "Office Space" doesn't resemble a cohesive narrative as much as a collection of individually hilarious skits. The same can be said for "Idiocracy", while the less said about "Extract" the be--.

Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, and Thomas Middleditch in "Silicon Valley" on HBO
Jaimie Trueblood/HBO Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, and Thomas Middleditch in "Silicon Valley"

On TV, however, Judge's voice sings. "Silicon Valley" works wonderfully as a longform story told over four hours, but it also allows Judge to create eight tight, small and propulsive narratives around the objects of his attention, while leaving enough time for zingers. It is one of the funniest shows in recent times, with the humor ranging from acerbic attacks at conceited millionaires to sublime visual gags in the opening credits sequence (watch Napster's balloon pop, literally) to the most complicated dick joke I have ever seen.

The laughs are made possible by an ensemble populated with gifted comic performers. Thomas Middleditch headlines the cast as Hendricks, and is extremely easy to root for. The self-effacing geek is a trope that's gone beyond cliché, but Middleditch makes Hendricks just believable enough. Working in his team are Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods, each of whom gets numerous moments in the spotlight. 

Starr and Nanjiani's banter is the highlight of many scenes set inside the "tech incubator" Pied Piper functions from, while the final hour of the season sees Woods undergo a physical transformation as creepy as it's uproarious. He doesn't age like a human being as much as he decays like an unstable atom. TJ Miller, as the landlord (and 10 percent stakeholder in Pied Piper, as he reminds everyone), is a riot. He often gets the best one-liners, and the pampering extends to his costuming, too. Watch out for the t-shirt he sports in the pilot; that he considers it "cool" tells us all we need to know about him. 

A few peripheral female characters pop up [that] have no identity of their own -- even the subplots featuring them are rife with sitcom clichés.

These actors all pale in comparison to Christopher Evan Welch, who played Peter Gregory, an angel investor in Pied Piper. Welch's performance is a masterclass in comedy; he effortlessly conveys the effort it takes for his character to be humane. Just the physical discomfort he evinces while speaking is a never-ending laugh. Unfortunately, Welch passed away while the first season was still in production. His loss is tragic, especially because this role would have introduced many people to his skills. His absence looms like a weird cloud over the show's latter half. Going by the events of the season finale, Peter Gregory will still be relevant to proceedings. Judge has almost ruled out recasting the role, so it remains to be seen how this issue will be tackled.

Another issue that "Silicon Valley" must tackle is its female representation. It's true that the tech world isn't the beacon of gender representation; since Judge is lampooning startups like these (scroll down to see their team), it's fair that he doesn't airdrop females for mere political correctness. To his credit, the series' one major female presence, Monica, Peter Gregory's assistant, goes beyond a token insertion. There's no hullabaloo over her existence; she's just there because she's good at her job, which is how it should be.

Nevertheless, a few peripheral female characters pop up over the season and they're all uniformly disappointing. Not only do they have no identity of their own -- someone's girlfriend, someone's ex-girlfriend -- but even the subplots featuring them are rife with sitcom clichés. A misunderstanding about a sexually adventurous girlfriend. A pretty, young coder who's pathetic at coding and needs the guys' help. And more. When Judge so studiously avoids mediocrity in the rest of "the show," his seeming willingness here to settle for the average stings.

HBO renewed "Silicon Valley" for a second season in April, giving everyone plenty of time and reason to catch up. After the failure of the "Beavis & Butthead" revival, "The Goode Family" and "Extract," it's great to see Mike Judge out of the wilderness and back where he works best.

"Silicon Valley" is a show of the times and with the times, about today's millionaires and how they operate. It's weirdly fitting that the season ended a day before Apple's WWDC, an event dominating the news cycle everywhere. Richard Hendricks wouldn't approve of the speaker, Tim Cook, Apple's new CEO. After all, he doesn't write code either.

This article is related to: Silicon Valley, HBO, HBO , Mike Judge, Mike Judge, Television Review, Television






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More