The characters in Mike Judge’s new HBO comedy “Silicon
Valley” may have little idea how to get their tech startup off the ground and
running, but they certainly have what it takes to be at the center of a smart,
laugh-out-loud series that could emerge as one of the strongest shows of 2014.
Thomas Middleditch stars as the lanky, softvoiced Richard, a
classic Silicon Valley nerd with brains aplenty and little in the way of business
smarts or hard-assed assertiveness. This proves a problem when, in the tightly
structured pilot, he realizes a music compression algorithm he’s created could
be the foundation for a multi-billion dollar company.
Before he knows it he’s got two billionaires trying to
outbid him — one is his boss at the hilariously named Hooli, throwing figures
Richard’s way in the $10 million range, and the other is a venture capitalist,
Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), who has a penchant for spouting a “drop
out of college” mantra at TED talks. Gregory offers Richard a modest
$200K, but with the tempting offer that he can keep and build up his company.
Now, if Richard were the type to take the $10 million and
run, there wouldn’t be much need for a show. So he jumps down the rabbit hole of
startups, armed with his $200K (which he doesn’t know how to deposit) and his
motley roommates as partners.
These include comedian T.J. Miller (as a blowhard who pushes
his paunch around, as well as his 10% ownership of the company), Kumail Nanjiani
(also a comedian) and Martin Starr as awkwardly arrogant programmers, and Josh
Brenner as Richard’s best friend who may or may not have a unique enough talent
to warrant getting a partnership cut. There’s also Zach Woods, as a
pale and obsequious MBA-grad type who helps get the “business” aspect of their
would-be business in shape.
Where the show excels is its skillful set up of a number of
plot elements certain to have juicy ramifications, while also giving us a
dead-on skewering of the Valley. Hooli boss Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) has a
new-age spiritual adviser who, when asked to sit down, replies calmly he “isn’t sitting this summer.” Gregory drives
around in a smart car the width of a laptop. Miller’s character wears a t-shirt
reading “I Know HTML (How To Meet Ladies).” And the visual gags and pleasantly
bizarre dialogue go on from there.
To that end, co-creator Judge is tapping into his “Office Space”
sweet spot with “Silicon Valley”: Establishing a setting rife with broad satire
(which, in other hands, could be too broad) but grounding it with relatable
characters who react to the ridiculousness around them, without getting too
meta and “cleverly” commenting on it.
And it’s a very close second to “Veep” as HBO’s funniest
series (high praise coming from a “Veep” head). All in all user-friendly.
“Silicon Valley” debuts on HBO April 6. Trailer and review roundup after the jump.
The Mike Judge-created series about life in modern-day
Silicon Valley is, immediately, HBO’s funniest series and quite possibly the
most likely to lure a large audience…There’s material to mine here for ages and
it has the ability — no guarantees, of course — to be HBO’s first bona-fide,
broad-based comedy hit.
After a string of half-hours seemingly designed for niche
tastes that sporadically merit the label “comedy,” HBO has its most fully
realized and potentially commercial player within that genre in some time
thanks to “Silicon Valley.” Co-created by Mike Judge (with the dryness of “King
of the Hill” and tone of “Office Space”), it’s a savvy look at the birthing
pains of a tech startup, filled with unforced humor and a serialized plot, in
which the sad-sack characters find themselves caught between feuding
For anyone with even passing experience of the tech
industry, this show is a high-grade Proustian pot brownie.
The series, which has the potential to be HBO’s most
mainstream comedy in several years, presents a bitterly funny bubble in which
insane amounts of money and coding talent have converged and all of the usual
middlemen, sales types and public faces that used to be involved in this
process have been left out. There’s only Richard, trying valiantly not to die
of a panic attack when negotiating for the future of his company and trying to
hold onto his humanity — and it’s a process you’re going to want to watch.
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