Idiot Box: “Silicon Valley”

“Silicon Valley” On Hbo

Devin D. O'Leary
3 min read
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Writer/director/producer/creator Mike Judge is still best known as the man behind MTV’s animated hit “Beavis and Butt-head.” But somewhere along the line, he became America’s sneakiest cultural observer. For all its catchphrasing and stupid behavior, “Beavis and Butt-head” was as accurate a portrayal of high school life in the ’90s as any we got on TV. Follow that up with the admirably non-redneck portrait of Texas suburbia known as “King of the Hill,” the dead-on corporate drone comedy Office Space and the terrifyingly prescient “sci-fi” tale Idiocracy and you’ve recited the resumé of a man who’s basically got 21st-century America’s number.

Now Judge has surfaced on HBO with the dotcom sitcom “
Silicon Valley.” While plenty have satirized the computer industry with varying degrees of success, few have gotten inside the heads of those involved quite so deeply as Judge. He graduated from UCSD with a degree in physics and spent years bent over a desk as a computer programmer in Silicon Valley. You can’t really make fun of something if you don’t know it intimately. Clearly Judge knows what he’s mocking.

“Silicon Valley” centers around an “incubator” run by stupid-rich burnout Erlich Bachman (comedian T.J. Miller). Years ago, Erlich sold off some ridiculous technology and cashed in for millions. Now he allows various programmers to stay at his house in Palo Alto while they slave away at their tech industry jobs by day and work on dream projects by night. The reality is that the computer industry has made living in Silicon Valley prohibitively expensive. Incubators allow dirt-poor programming peons to live cheap or rent-free while they try to come up with “the next big thing.”

One of the people living in Erlich’s house is old-school nerd Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch,
The Campaign). While working on his music-matching website, Richard inadvertently creates the perfect compression algorithm. It will allow nearly unlimited amounts of music or video to be sent over the internet with no loss of quality. It’s a major game-changer. When word gets out about Richard’s algorithm, a bidding war starts. On one side we have Gavin Belson (oily Matt Ross from “Big Love” and “American Horror Story”). He’s Richard’s boss at the Google-like corporate giant Hooli, and he’s got all the money. On the other side is anti-college, techno-hippie investor Peter Gregory. Belson offers millions to buy out Richard’s algorithm. Gregory offers a pittance in exchange for a percentage of Richard’s company. Will Richard go for the big money, or will he gamble on his future? … Until he decides, he’ll throw up a lot and have panic attacks.

“Silicon Valley” is basically the nerd version of “Entourage.” Obviously a lot has been exaggerated for humorous purposes. But it’s got the look and feel of insider reality that other “nerd” shows like “The Big Bang Theory” just can’t nail. From its pitch-perfect characters (a LaVeyan Satanist computer programmer played by the great Martin Starr of “Freaks and Geeks” and “Party Down”) to its winking dialogue “Jobs was a poser,” grouses Erlich. “He didn’t even write code.”), “Silicon Valley” is hilariously, knowingly on target.

“Silicon Valley” airs Sundays at 8pm on HBO.

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