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‘Silicon Valley’ Review

Silicon Valley
HBO

It’s been a while since we’ve seen some new content from Mike Judge, the creative mind who brought us favorites like the cult classic film ‘Office Space’ and the animated TV series ‘King of the Hill.’ Judge returns with the new HBO series ‘Silicon Valley,’ which marries his experience in episodic television with his knowledge and background in the world of computer technology. The sharp and highly hilarious series, which premiered its first two episodes at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival in advance of its April 6 debut, isn’t all biting satire of the world of computer programmers and coders trying to parlay their talents into superstar lifestyles a la Steve Jobs — it’s actually got a lot more depth of character and quite a bit of heart beneath its comedic veneer. 

This isn’t Judge’s first foray into the world of technology and computer programming, but ‘Silicon Valley,’ which Judge is co-showrunning, takes him from his comfy ‘burbs of Texas to Palo Alto, California, the city where aspiring tech innovators flock to fulfill their dreams. Front and center is Richard (Thomas Middleditch), who lives in an “incubator” — a home funded by cocky former success story Erlich (T.J. Miller), who uses his earnings from the sale of an app to give newcomers a place to stay and grow their ideas, promising him a 10% share of any successful ventures born there in exchange.

Also in the house are Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Big Head (Josh Brener, who also starred in ‘The Internship‘), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and fellow programmers and coders who are all trying to stake out a claim of the Silicon Valley pie. Richard and Big Head both work for Hooli, a riff on Google run by narcissistic maniac Gavin Belson, played by the wonderful Matt Ross, who knows how to sink his teeth into these smarmy roles. Richard has come up with a website, and while the site itself isn’t all that impressive, the algorithm nestled in its core function is a game changer, and pretty soon he’s the chew toy being fought over between his boss and entrepreneur Peter Gregory (the recently deceased Christopher Evan Welch, whose eccentric performance here is truly fascinating to watch).

Guys like Steve Jobs — we see photos of them back in the days before they were a big deal, and we wonder how these men went from nerdy dreamers to rockstars of the tech industry. ‘Silicon Valley’ functions as a much lighter and more hilarious version of ‘The Social Network,’ showing us how a group of guys with all the talent to succeed but none of the business acumen attempt to get their crap together from the ground up. The results are at turns hilarious, awkward and even a little sad, especially when Richard hires his former boss’ assistant (the wonderful Zach Woods, who seemed to be engineered in a lab for humor like this) as a business expert and is essentially forced to squeeze his best friend out of the venture before it’s even off the ground. I don’t want to spoil much more in the way of plot developments, but there’s definitely some complex elements at play regarding friendship and the idea of trying to do what’s best for yourself while also trying to keep your personal life separate. This is an inherently competitive industry, and that concept unfortunately can’t remain relegated to business and business alone.

That seems like a lot of serious talk about a new comedy show from Mike Judge, but rest assured, the series is hilarious, with Judge firing on all cylinders in a way we haven’t quite experienced in some time. The constraints of television seem to serve him quite well; the pacing is smart, the dialogue is punchy, and the characters are all fully developed. The observational and satirical humor marry well to create a show that’s not skewering or condescending its subjects. It’s clear that Judge has reverence and fondness for these kinds of people, and a real understanding of their world, giving him the ability to discern between what’s worthy of ridicule and what isn’t. He’s not an outsider looking down and poking fun at something he doesn’t understand; this isn’t ‘The Big Bang Theory.’

The cast is absolutely wonderful, from more established presences like Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani, to relative newcomer Thomas Middleditch, who you might recognize as the broker with the goldfish in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ He’s affable and modest, and we watch him get pushed slowly to his breaking point over the course of the first two episodes — it’ll be interesting to see where the series is headed with him for the long haul, and here’s hoping HBO sticks with it.

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