Spring 2014 Review: Silicon Valley

7 Apr

The men of Silicon Valley

The humor in Silicon Valley is very different than that of the show it’s paired with after Game of Thrones on HBO, Veep, but the two share a different commonality which makes them an apt pairing: they’re both insider-y takes on very insular communities. Both shows welcome outsiders in to laugh and learn about their community’s peculiar quirks and allow insiders to nod their head at the all-too-familiar world they recognize on screen.

Where for Veep it’s the political arenas of Washington D.C., for Silicon Valley, it’s the tech world of well, Silicon Valley. I’m not anything close to an insider, but even just from having read occasionally about Silicon Valley and stories of the inanity that goes on there, I notice at least some of the shout outs to the absurd eccentricities of the area’s culture, such as the ridiculous company names, the claim that every product no matter how mundane and business-facing makes the world a better place, the reverence towards tech billionaires, and the ludicrously lavish parties.

Of course successfully parodying Silicon Valley is one thing and I’m sure to locals that’s more valuable in and of itself; I have no way to confirm this, but from what I’ve read Silicon Valley is pretty much spot on. But is it funny or enjoyable to outsiders? It is, and it’s warm, and honestly, it’s a story that it’s kind of shocking we haven’t seen yet, considering what a big part of American culture the tech startup world has become since the first dot com bubble of the late ’90s and the rise of Facebook. The only other quintessential bit of startup pop culture in the 21st century is The Social Network, a much more serious reality-based story. Silicon Valley is a lighter tale about the way up, rather than a look back at what went right and what went wrong from the top, but parallels can certainly be drawn between the two.

Silicon Valley stars five twenty-to-thirty somethings. a couple of whom work at a google-esque major tech company (Hooli) during the day and devote their nights towards working on their own startup enterprises at their house, owned by Erlich, an entrepreneur who had a semi-successful startup and sold out for a fair but not ridiculous amount of money. Erlich calls his house an incubator and owns ten percent of each tenant’s company rather than charge rent. Richard Hendrix, our protagonist, has been working a site called Pied Piper designed to help songwriters find out if their songs violate existing copyrights.

The stakes ramp up when a couple of very important people in the tech world – the CEO of Hooli, Gavin Belson, and venture capitalist billionaire Peter Gregory (whose right-on-point TED talk on the dangers of attending college the boys attended earlier) discover that within Hendrix’s worthless start up is a mega-valuable piece of technology, setting off a quick bidding war between the two for Hendrix’s company. Belson offers him $10 million for everything, but Gregory offers him $200,000 for 5% of the company, advice, and the chance to grow it himself. After having a panic attack, and with some persuasion from Gregory’s female employee Monica (I particularly note female because she is pretty much the only woman to appear so far in the show; perhaps that’s yet another accurate rendition of Silicon Valley culture – this show doesn’t even approach passing the Bechdel test).

Hendrix brings all his friends aboard and sets out to start a company.  The quest is then, as Richard expresses when he tries to give a short speech towards the end of the pilot, to build and grow a hugely successful enterprise, and feel good doing it, all while avoiding the dystopian hive mind of Silicon Valley that he and the others are sick of, and which can be as insidious as it is hilarious.

Silicon Alley is a spin on a classic losers/underdogs against the world theme, but there’s one big difference.  There’s not up against the big, hulking, charismatic jocks – instead, Silicon Valley is run by the nerds; the only difference between nerds and gurus are a couple of billion dollars.  The main characters may be classic nerds, but they’re not Big Bang Theory nerds; there’s a fine line between natural awkwardness and uncomfortable no-real-people-are-like-this behavior and certainly in the first episode Silicon Valley stays well to the former side of the line and I have no reason to think that it will deviate from this.

As the credits rolled, I was pretty excited to follow their journey with them. While it doesn’t have the hook of an edge-of-your-seat-gripping drama, it was exceedingly easy to watch, and if there was another episode available at the time I would have popped it on right away.

Will I watch it again? Yes. Networks have reputations that preceed them, and HBO is held to a pretty high standard. Thankfully, this looks like another strong effort. Next episode, please.

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