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"Silicon Valley" episode 1: Too silly to satirize?

Jason Snell | April 8, 2014
There's a lot to like about "Silicon Valley," the comedy series that premiered Sunday night on HBO. Series creator Mike Judge brings the same absurdist social commentary vibe that served him so well in the cult film "Office Space." And let's face it--tech-industry culture can be so particularly strange that satirizing it is like shooting fish in a barrel.

There's a lot to like about "Silicon Valley," the comedy series that premiered Sunday night on HBO. Series creator Mike Judge brings the same absurdist social commentary vibe that served him so well in the cult film "Office Space." And let's face it — tech-industry culture can be so particularly strange that satirizing it is like shooting fish in a barrel.

The show opens with Kid Rock wrapping up a performance on stage, only for a wide shot to reveal that he's playing for a couple of dozen people, most of whom aren't paying him any attention. It's an exaggeration, sure, but I've seen big-name rock acts playing to disinterested crowds of computer programmers plenty of times, and the show nails just how ridiculous it feels.

The industry's unnecessary displays of wealth and inflated sense of self-importance are at the heart of what "Silicon Valley" skewers, so is it any wonder that some actual tech billionaires are uncomfortable about the whole thing?

I know I laughed out loud at the show's portrayal of a tech executive who claims that he's "making the world a better place" (complete with a Photoshopped picture of the executive in Africa) when in fact his company is just "constructing elegant hierarchies for maximum code reuse and extensibility." Programmers making life easier for other programmers is more or less like curing malaria, right? The joke's so good, the episode recycles it — later the Google-like company Hooli is described as "transforming the world as we know it through minimal message-oriented transport layers."

There's also a great, Ballmer-esque moment, when a startup CEO shouts "I love our integrated multiplatform functionality! Yeah!" into a microphone. "Now here's my good friend Kid Rock!" Nobody believes anything the guy says — but the guy might be so deluded that he believes it himself. (He's celebrating because his company just got bought out by Google for $200 million. I'd wager that if Judge was shooting this same episode today, he'd make it a cool $10 billion. $200 million is chump change for 2014's big tech players.)

Since Sunday's episode, "Minimum Viable Product," is the show's premiere, it spends a lot of time introducing us to our cast of characters. At the enter is Richard (Thomas Middleditch), a shy programmer who works at Hooli during the day and is creating his own website at night. Richard is living in a "tech incubator" run by Ehrilich Bachman (T.J. Miller), who sold his company for millions and now wanders around wearing How To Meet Ladies t-shirts. Richard's pals are Big Head (Josh Brener), Gilfoyle (the delightful Martin Starr, who you might remember from "Freaks and Geeks"), and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani).

 

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