HBO’s newest comedy, Silicon Valley is exceptional. Leave it to Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-head, Office Space) to finally break the dusty old trope of the “nerd comedy” by presenting technology and the people who make it with the absolute obsession and absurdity that reflects its place in real society.
It’s 2014 now, the nerds have won, people who work with computers are just people who work, and Silicon Valley illustrates this as a business start up comedy presented in the form of a live action cartoon.
It’s the story of a group of young programmers who live together in an incubator owned by app development millionaire Erlich (T.J. Miller). Each works away on their individual projects as they attempt to build the next killer app. You’ve got Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Big Head (Josh Brenner), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Maritn Starr) all under the same roof living with the pretense that if any one of them makes it big, Erlich is in for ten percent of the resulting startup.
This would be a good enough premise alone for getting some amazing comedians together in the same room to deliver some expert satire on the new digital klondike that is West Coast app development, but once Richard’s music compression application called Pied Piper gets noticed by Peter Gregory (the late Christopher Evan Welch) and Gavin Belson – the show’s Steve Jobs and Bill Gates stand-ins – the spark needed to make all of the action compelling is ignited and what we have is a comedy that satisfies in the laughs department and moves forward with real emotional stakes.
The episodes fall along the narrative of a start-up made by a bunch of young men who don’t know anything about business. Conflict never feels forced and always delivers laughs thanks to well-defined roles and great chemistry in the cast.
Erlich is the bumbling guru by virtue of being there first, and also the proof of concept that anyone can make it big in the eponymous valley; Richard is the hero in over his head; Big Head, Dinesh and Gilfoyle are there for the lols, and Jared (Zach Woods) – the business expert that left his job with Belson because he believes in Pied Piper – is the out of touch connection to potential business success if he can ever get over his crippling meekness enough to actually get the rest of these goofballs to listen.
The performances by Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr, who are paired off as the de facto employees of Pied Piper are particularly delightful any time they are on screen. Both actors have an excellent knack for deadpan comedy, and in a Mike Judge show that is always going to be an asset. The two underplay every joke to a point where their simply being in frame makes the scene funnier.
Christopher Evan Welch, who passed away in December during the filming of this show is also a highlight. A classic Mike Judge caricature, Welch’s Peter Gregory is soft spoken and alien, while also holding all of the power, lending tons of weight to the absurd situation side of the equation.
The only major complaint I have with the first five episodes – and it is a biggie – is the glaring lack of female characters.
Will I continue to watch it? Yes, it’s a very funny show about an industry that has been begging for this kind of excellent satire.
Should you watch it? Yes. It’s hilarious, smart and comes right after Game of Thrones so just don’t change the channel or turn off your DVR.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Silicon Valley stands to suffer from the same kind of criticism that plagued Girls in its first season: it is unrepresentative for no apparent reason.
I say no apparent reason because, despite the occasional dick or masturbation joke, the 95 percent all-male cast has absolutely no gender identity beyond the virtue of the genitals attached to the actor on screen. The characters rarely talk about sex, and their inability to objectify women is actually made into a punchline about how out of touch T.J. Miller’s character is with his incubator tenants.
This isn’t a show about the male experience, it’s about the rat race of the tech industry. Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo – a company prominently featured in the show’s dynamic title sequence – is a woman and yet I see zero female characters with any sort of professional clout or programming chops.
Why are there no women in this show that aren’t assistants? I have no answer, just disappointment and the kind of guilt that comes on when I realize that as much as I love that these characters are so fully realized, animated and funny, potential female fans will have almost no relatable entry point to a show that I have no doubt will garner a ton of critical praise.
I’m disappointed because beyond the lack of ladies, this show is truly exceptional as a comedy. The jokes are highbrow and smart without being condescending or pandering, the emotional struggles are hooky without exploiting a central romance and the episode premises and characters offer fresh takes on comedy staples without seeming overly familiar or hacky.
I want to shower praises on Silicon Valley for its intelligence and humour, but this oversight in casting is going to keep me back from using any sort of hyperbolic description that I might have otherwise used, like “important,” or “groundbreaking,” or “the best satire about the people behind important technology since Dr. Strangelove.”