by Chris O’Neal
Rarely does something intentionally funny come out of Silicon Valley. Leave it to Mike Judge to churn the absurdity of the tech industry into gold, and make it a success, too, while in the same moment, showing us how the sausage is made.
HBO’s Silicon Valley, co-created by Judge (of Beavis and Butt-Head, Office Space and King of the Hill fame), John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, centers on a group of tech nerds striving to create the next big app. Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) inadvertently creates a code that allows for ultrafast processing, which leads to him and his product being thrown into an all-out war among giants of the industry.
Together with coders Dinesh Chugtai (Kumail Nanjiani), Bertram Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and entrepreneur Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller, who recently broke out in Deadpool), the team is Pied Piper, a kind of tech-startup everyman.
The show offers a peek at the mechanism that is the actual Silicon Valley in a way that feels like maybe we shouldn’t see. Behind the curtain are often embarrassing secrets that would (and probably should) take the awe out of social media. After all, everyone knows Google, Facebook and Yahoo! . . . but do we really know them?
For instance, Season 1’s venture capitalist Peter Gregory, played meticulously uncomfortably by the late Christopher Evan Welch, is modeled after real-life tech giant and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, the odd, if not obsessive, co-founder of PayPal. Thiel recently made the news for funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits against the media giant Gawker, some say as revenge for outing him as gay in a tabloid exposé. Gregory exhibited the same drive: relentless, unyielding, cold, but somehow in the right.
Other characters are just as calculating, with varying intentions. Most of the characters of Silicon Valley are either devoid of emotion or mentally unable to make lasting emotional connections, little machines themselves. If it weren’t for the guise of comedy, it would be quite sad how badly our protagonist Hendricks often screws up somewhat simple social encounters.
It’s not just Hendricks, nor is it unique to Silicon Valley. The tech industry worldwide is ripe for parody; Silicon Valley is a slice of life in the same vein as The Twilight Zone’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” (Example: German tech giant Siemens’ “Healthineer” mandatory dance concert is readily available on YouTube.)
Silicon Valley is in the midst of its third season and a lot has changed. Hendricks’ “middle-out” code has launched Pied Piper into the big leagues, forcing the team to contend with the company’s newly appointed dollar-signs-for-pupils CEO Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), known as “Action Jack” for taking startups and flipping them for profit.
Season 3 has proven that truth is stranger than fiction, that the larger-than-life personalities of the real Silicon Valley (and tech industry as a whole) can, and should, have the wind taken out of their sails a bit. As hilarious as it is — and it is gut-grabbingly hilarious — it’s a bit disturbing if you pause and think, “These are the people shaping the future of technology?” Maybe it’s best not to ask.
Silicon Valley airs on HBO Sundays at 9 p.m., with previous seasons available via HBO’s streaming services, Now and Go.
Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.