I really, really like Silicon Valley. The show’s exceeded my expectations, and then some.
I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is the new comedy series from Mike Judge, the man who brought us Beavis and Butt-head, King of the Hill and Office Space. Judge knows how to deliver subversive, nuanced comedy that doesn’t beat us over the head with cheap laughs. He gives us characters that start off as caricatures and quickly develop into full-fledged human beings. His work is simultaneously grounded in the real and unreal, which is critical given the subject matter here. Not to mention, his shows are eminently re-watchable — I just re-visited all three released episodes of Valley before writing this (spoiler alert: they’re just as funny the second time around.)
If TV is a sign of the times, then there’s no better time than right now to lampoon the entrepreneurial startup culture that is the real Silicon Valley. Nary a month goes by that we don’t hear about a billion-dollar acquisition of a company that produces zero revenue but plenty of proclamations to “change the world.” The tech world is an insular, fantastic place with its own rules and (improbable) rite of passage. It’s the playground for all of the young, impressionable and mostly male misfits to make their mark in the new economy. Whereas these creative types may have once been tormented by school bullies, they are now the new bullies and lawmakers. They’re driving Ferraris, re-writing the rules and hosting parties with liquid shrimp. It would all be crazy if it wasn’t true.
There’s an ongoing gag in the show that everybody is pitching the next great idea, and that everybody has an app that will change the world. This handy device reinforces the idea that all of the tech world is a pseudo-bubble waiting to burst. I suspect that the general public would peek inside the Valley dome with a combination of bemusement, disbelief and contempt. And can we blame them? After Wall Street, we’ve found the cultural zeitgeist in Palo Alto. Greed isn’t good. Dreaming is good.
At least, that’s how I imagine it. I’m too engrained in the tech world to objectively distance myself from the spectacle and backdrop of this mostly fictional show. From my vantage point, I appreciate the in-jokes that are sprinkled throughout and the buzzwords and jargon used — they are absolutely tailor-made for my sensibilities. The fact that Silicon Valley as a show exists at all speaks volumes about the day and age we’re in, where “niche” shows are given a fair shake. (There’s a part of me that believes Freaks and Geeks could thrive in today’s TV climate — alas, we’ll never know.)
Having said all that, there’s more to it than insider jokes for the technorati. At its core, Silicon Valley is a well-produced and most importantly, funny show. Regardless of how much you know about the Googles, Apples and Sequoias of the world, Valley is watchable because it presents the classic David versus Goliath scenario and it makes you laugh. The “David” of our story, Richard, plays it straight while he figures out how to turn down millions of dollars in order to build a billion-dollar company. The odds are stacked against him, precisely because he’s doing it all for the first time and has never heard of a business plan. In other words, he’s in way over his head.
Whether it’s due to the influence of his “circle” — the angel investor backing him, his software development team, or his irrationally confident mentor — Richard is growing into something more formidable than meets the eye. I found myself a willing cheerleader for a socially awkward but brilliant guy, whose life turned upside down the moment he decided to fight Goliath. “Goliath” in this case is Hooli, an extremely thin facsimile of Google. Now that the founder of Hooli can’t buy Richard’s company (the creepily-named Pied Piper), he’s set on beating him to the punch.
It’s all great fun, especially when we’re pitting one pompous asshole against a pompous asshole-in-the-making. The great conceit of the show is that it’s an origin story, of sorts — if the cycle of tech startups is to be believed, Richard will eventually morph into the very company that he chose not to sell out to. I could definitely see him as the next version of Mark Zuckerberg, preaching the fact that he had it all figured out since day one. Call it the Silicon Valley circle of life, or the power of revisionist history.
Valley feels like a voyeur’s view into the tech subculture, and Judge has clearly studied the subject matter well. Give it a shot — just remember to leave your derision at the door.