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Silicon Valley Review: Mike Judge Bytes Into Tech Satire For HBO's Sharp New Comedy
There are times when my favorite moments of a TV series put me directly into the mind-state of a character who is in the middle of making a nearly impossible decision, and I force myself to choose which side of the dilemma I’d fall on. There was one moment in Mike Judge’s new HBO comedy Silicon Valley when I had that thought, and it involved our lead Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch) choosing between taking a lot of money to give a creation up, or taking less money to make that creation into something better. Considering website coding was at the center of the decision, I personally would have just taken the bigger sum and wondered silently what family of elves had broken into my house and created the website in the first place. And with those newfound riches, I would just sit around and watch Mike Judge projects all day.
Between Beavis & Butthead and King of the Hill, Judge was an animated TV presence for almost two decades straight, with the occasional underrated feature to tide over live-action fans. With Silicon Valley, he brings together those two mediums into one tightly wound and always sharp satire that skewers the software start-up world that he briefly worked in before making teenagers hit frogs with baseball bats. And given how over-the-top the real Silicon Valley is, one has to wonder where the satire begins and the anecdotes end.
Richard is housed inside an “Incubator” of tech-minded young men including the whole-heartedly self-centered Erlich (T.J. Miller) and the “characters that are fleshed out in as much as I enjoy them from other things” trio of Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Big Head (Josh Brener). Though he created the app/website Pied Piper that serves as a search engine for legal-to-download music, Richard isn’t entirely sure of himself, as he’s basically a small-time coder in the Google-sized enterprise Hooli.
But once Hooli’s smarmy CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) and rival entrepreneur Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch at his finest) both get wind of the super impressive algorithm at the heart of Pied Piper's search engine, the sky is the limit for the amount of wealth Richard can take in. As is the case with most self-made men, he has to consider whether or not the money from selling out is worth more than the integrity that comes from taking his product to the next level, while also accepting a large chunk of change to do so.
If we’re talking storyline, Silicon Valley has just what I need: Martin Starr and other nerdish types maximizing on their smarts in order to foolishly enter into a lifestyle they’ve never known. This is one of my favorite sub-sub-genres, and Judge, along with co-creators Dave Krinsky and John Altschuler, are the perfect people to eke out the laughs from a life that is relatively unintelligible to us laymen outside the developer world. I mean, I sit behind a keyboard and computer monitor most of the day, but mine isn’t the life of an HBO character.
And if we’re talking subversive jokes, Judge is also the finest artist in the land. And if not, at least he makes me feel like he is. Gregory’s entire schtick before we meet him proper is that he wants college students to drop out of school and work on their own ideas. The episode starts on a thinly-populated concert that another giant software company is putting on – and it’s Kid Rock, by the way, presumably selling out to play this gig – and one of the “promoters” manages to sneak a personal Barack Obama story in between songs. And in what is probably my favorite scene, comedic genius Andy Daly plays a doctor who isn’t sure if a startup developer attempted suicide because he did or didn’t sell his idea for a big gain, but Daly definitely has advice about how that suicide attempt should have been carried out. I can picture the people that don't think these small touches are funny, and I feel sorry for them.
Dark but never dangerous, Silicon Valley still needs to bring out another shade of these characters to add depth to the surface-level lifestyle that the writers are spoofing. The one scene that bummed me out was a stereotypical bit where The Office’s Zach Woods plays a Hooli higher-up that watches people figure out how awesome the Pied Piper algorithm is, which was kind of like a compressed version of every computer scene in Swordfish. But even if Silicon Valley never becomes more than just quasi-bro-humor and a never-ending stream of geekily witty jabs at the digital upper crust, I’ll still treasure it and hold it in the air while headbanging free from rhythm. Because Mike Judge doesn’t make garbage. I give it a fleventy-five out of a flundred.
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