Already in its second season and recently renewed for a third, HBO’s Silicon Valley has seen some pretty wild success, even being named the “Entourage for geeks” by various critics. A less annoying (and less intelligence-insulting) The Big Bang Theory, Silicon Valley delivers sharp, tech-oriented humor, detailing the journey of six young guys as their dreams of building their own startup company come to fruition.
Not only is Silicon Valley smart, it’s also extremely relevant. The past decade-and-a-half has birthed numerous startup companies, plenty of which have become imperative players in our daily lives. Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox… They were all startups at one point. We live in an age of startups, of experimentation. Even Tidal, Jay-Z’s highly-publicized and arguably-failed music streaming service, was an experiment. New ideas are popping up every day, given every opportunity to become the “next big thing.” That’s what Silicon Valley is all about: the people behind those new ideas, hoping to become the next Instagram or Craigslist or Snapchat.
Created by Mike Judge, the mind behind Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill, Silicon Valley follows Richard Hendriks (played by Thomas Middleditch), a programmer stuck at his job at fictional Google-equivalent Hooli. Having developed a music application called Pied Piper, Hendriks is desperate to find financial backing for his project. After securing an investor, Hendriks, who lives in a “startup business incubator,” hires his roommates for the new company. Episodes focus on Pied Piper’s rocky road to success, dodging various legal, technical, and personal obstacles on the way up.
Unlike other “nerd humor” programs (looking at you, Big Bang Theory), Silicon Valley doesn’t depend on belittling its geek cast of characters for laughs, nor does it try too hard to seem smart. There isn’t any pseudo-scientific babble, there’s no audience telling you when to laugh. Silicon Valley masters comedy with its simple premise – six entrepreneurs navigating the world of venture capitalism – without ever trying too hard.
Set in Palo Alto, California, Judge’s show delves into tech subculture, keenly satirizing real people and problems of the realm. Silicon Valley’s emotionally-stunted billionaire Peter Gregory, for instance, is partly based on PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, with both men sharing an indifference (or in Gregory’s case, disdain) towards college education and a thoroughly libertarian philosophy. Hooli, the Internet giant at which Richard Hendriks works, is based in a headquarters that appears and functions strikingly similar to the Googleplex.
Rest assured, the series has its fair share of dick jokes and certainly plays on the social awkwardness of its protagonists. In Silicon Valley‘s first episode, Hendriks’s best friend explains his own creation: an app (appropriately named “Nip Alert”) that provides its users with the location of any woman with erect nipples. Later in the first season, the employees of Pied Piper discuss a mathematical algorithm of their own conception to determine how to most effectively jerk off an entire room of men. Still, though, some jokes seem a bit too easy. In one episode, the Pied Piper guys are met by a stripper, whose presence causes many of them extreme anxiety, playing on the old, tired trope of “nerdy guys who can’t talk to girls.”
While certainly funny, the show does feel a bit over-the-top and even cartoonish at times, but that’s to be expected of satire. Silicon Valley‘s core characters are almost complete caricatures, a fact pointed out in a totally meta line by series antagonist Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). Timid, lanky Richard Hendriks is joined by his equally-awkward best friend “Big Head” (Josh Brener), droll, LeVeyan Satanist Bertram Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and Gilfoyle’s East Indian foil, Dinesh Chugtai (Kumail Nanjiani). While none of the characters are particularly compelling, they are funny and play well off each other, which is a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
Everything considered, Silicon Valley is a solid piece of half-hour entertainment and a refreshing comedy unlike anything else on television right now. A dry, hilarious take on the post-dotcom bubble Silicon Valley, capitalism, and the tech world as a whole, Silicon Valley is a series worth giving a chance. We’re the products of a startup culture. Silicon Valley is the perfect celebration (and lampoon) of the folks who helped build the Information Age.