Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Review: HBO's SILICON VALLEY, 1.1 – 'Minimum Viable Product'

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

written by John Altschuler, Dave Krinskey & Mike Judge | directed by Mike Judge

Curiously, I've never liked Mike Judge's animated hits (Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill), but have enjoyed most of his flop live-action efforts (Office Space, Idiocracy), which makes me an unusual case. As Judge's biggest hits have been on TV, it feels like a wise move that his next non-animated project is an eight-part HBO series; and after sampling Silicon Valley's pilot I'm hopeful this will develop into something smart and funny... although, given its subject-matter, it'll likely remain as niche as the Office Space did. But is that a bad thing?

Silicon Valley concerns four low-level programmers working in the titular South Bay region of San Francisco—Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch), Erlich (T.J Miller), Big Head (Josh Brener), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumali Nanjiani). The pilot sets up the notion that Richard's accidentally written a game-changing algorithm in his Pied Piper app (which allows musicians to search for copyrighted material), which gives the software the ability to compress files with unbeatable fidelity. And once various big tech companies (like the Google-esque Hooli) realise what Richard's unwittingly achieved, they're determined to buy his code for a relative pittance (um, $3 million) and rake in the inevitable billions... until Richard resolves to create his own company with his friends, and guide them towards financial glory. In that respect, he's on a journey of self-discovery and maturity in refusing to take the easy road to instant wealth and become master and commander of his own destiny. The next Steve Wozniak, perhaps.

The best thing about Silicon Valley is how it tackles relatively fresh targets for our world today. Westerners are living in a crazy era where the under-30s become billionaires for "simply" creating a popular app or game, and Mike Judge has crafted a sitcom that taps into a rich source of humour and oddness. Silicon Valley is a place where rich kids enjoy an immature lifestyle of pool parties where Kid Rock's a guest booking (playing to an indifferent group of nerds on a lawn), while working at multinational companies that have headquarters resembling a 14-year-old boy's fantasy office space.

In its first episode Silicon Valley succeeds in painting an amusing picture of a snobbish subculture that doesn't feel too far removed from reality. Mike Judge worked as a programmer in Silicon Valley fro a short while back in 1987, which was an experience that informs this comedy, and like Office Space it's obvious he has a keen ability of amplifying something recognisable into something hilarious.

However, on the downside, this pilot didn't do much with the many characters (even ostensible hero Richard was sketchily dawn). This could be fixed as early as the next episode, but it felt strange for a pilot to avoid giving us insight into the characters and instead focus on the world surrounding them.

Overall, the potential of Silicon Valley is huge if the characters burst into life and the show avoids repeatedly mocking lazy targets. I'm not sure it'll strongly appeal to those who don't have an interest in geek culture, technology, or the many cultural peculiarities of the "Facebook era", but those people are likely content with piffle like The Big Bang Theory.

6 April 2014 | HBO