HBO’s got a lock on the aimless 20-something demographic with “Girls,” the attention of the gay male gaze with “Looking,” enough of a cult following with “Game of Thrones” to crash their own website and now they’ve set out to win the affection of techies and Mark Zuckerberg-hopefuls with the new comedy, “Silicon Valley.”
Directed by Mike Judge of “Office Space” fame, “Silicon Valley” premiered April 6 with a barrage of self-aware jabs at its namesake – the land of ceaseless innovation, startups and cutthroat capitalism wrapped in New Age rhetoric. Notable points include: one character in an H.T.M.L (How To Meet Ladies) T-shirt, the sprawling office of the fictional Hoolia (inspirational posters and corporate evangelicalism included) and one luxurious house party hosted by the newly rich and social inept.
Plot-wise, the pilot introduces us to the introverted Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and his forgettable cohorts just before he’s presented with the wet dream ultimatum of techies all over the world. Hendricks has designed a compression algorithm for his music-matching website, Pied Piper, that inspires a sudden bidding war between his boss at Hoolia (the egomaniacal Gavin Belson played by Matt Ross) and venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch). He’s offered $10 million to sell out, or a 95 percent stake in whatever becomes of the Pied Piper. Since this is (a) a television show that needs a plot, and (b) America, home of the self-made man, we can all guess what Hendricks decides.
The comedy of “Silicon Valley,” however, is in the details. Critics may have accused the show of being “too nice” to the cradle of the nefarious tech-industry, but it fires a few on point cultural critiques that, while not scathing, are worth a few laughs. There are several funny quips about the work of tech companies (i.e., “constructing elegant hierarchies for maximum code reuse and extensibility”) making the world a better place, one TED talk that deems college “a cruel expensive joke” and one NipAlert app, which notifies you when erect nipples are within a certain radius of your phone. “Silicon Valley” even turns its self-aware eye to itself when Belson notes that every clique of programmers (including Hendricks’) travel in groups of five with a skinny white guy, a short Asian, a fat guy with a pony-tail, someone with crazy facial hair and an Indian guy.
The best point of the episode comes when Hendricks attempts to make a toast to his friends after opting out of the $10 million offer to make it on his own, and he can’t think of an inspirational mantra that hasn’t already been copyrighted. “Think Different?” Wait, that’s Apple. “Just Do It?” No, that’s Nike. A list of Twitter-ready jokes could fill an entire page.
These vaguely entertaining nods to the life of Silicon Valley yuppies are not enough to carry the show, unfortunately. Any potential for legitimate satire is diffused half-heartedly and every character feels like an overblown caricature that we’ve seen again and again. Since the creators seem content to sidestep a direct confrontation with the frightening power of tech companies like Facebook and Google or the realistic complexities of living in such a cutthroat world, “Silicon Valley” will not be a viciously hilarious satire but a run of the mill comedy about five guys trying to make it rich on their own terms. How original.
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