Until we get warm to the quintet of hopeful, somewhat naïve programmers that have potentially hit it big with a new algorithm and funded startup, which happens sometime during the back half of the second episode, the lampoonery of silicon valley-ites in HBO's new comedy is simply insufferable.
‘Silicon Valley,’ which premieres on Sunday, April 6 at 10 p.m. and was co-created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, wastes little time ripping apart the insular, the pompous, and the eccentric of the high tech world, not unlike Judge did with mundane in 1999’s ‘Office Space.’ It’s a different world now, and the continued mocking of CEOs, engineers, and those who think they have the next big thing, is sometimes funny but also frustrating.
The opening scene features Kid Rock playing some rich guy’s party, and the joke is that Kid Rock is the poorest person there, and that rich yuppies love Kid Rock. “Programmers,” remarks one character, a half-inside joke that jabs at an esoteric stereotype. Later on another says, “Billionaires.” This joke continues. They’re all disgustingly rich and full of themselves, and it’s hard to enjoy watching that unfold scene after scene, especially when it’s the same joke: one has a yogi, another private proctologist (we get it).
Thankfully, we (eventually) have heroes with redeeming qualities, and their journey to fully understand and deal with this strange world is that of the audiences – it just takes a while to get there. The pilot features a lot of unlikeable people, and even our five some is questionable.
Richard (Thomas Middleditch) is a meek, loveable idealist who learns that a music program he created (named Pied Piper, the source of many jokes and the plot of at least two episodes) operates on an unprecedented compression algorithm.
Basically, he’s done something remarkable, and before he can breathe, he is caught between bidding billionaires, one who will take his product for $10 million straight, and another who will invest $200K to let Richie grow it. “This is game changing,” remarks Monica, an assistant to the less maniacal billionaire and really the only female character in a world populated by men.
Richie takes the latter offer (or else there would be no show), making a constant motivation the desire to never just totally regret leaving 10 mil on the table. His team includes the loud stoner misfit Erlich (who runs the Hacker Hostel, where Richie developed the program), the dry Dinesh, the arrogant Gilfoyle (and Dinesh’s yang), the expendable best friend Big Head, and later on the socially-awkward, business-oriented Jared.
Even they all are mocked in the first episode, as more nefarious of the two aforementioned CEOs comments that programmers always run in packs of five and always include a big guy with facial hair, a minority, and so forth.
The inconsistent comedy workbetter though when our protagonists are allowed to explore this world of absurdity and egotism as opposed to encountering the people who represent it. ‘Silicon Valley’ is pretty simple: the Pied Piper team is earnest if not disorganized and inexperienced, while everyone else (except maybe Monica) is incredibly selfish, eccentric, or both.
The early episodes are full of hits and misses, with some sort of casually passing the time with random gags – stoner jokes, eccentric people discussing the plight of the plebs – while other have genuinely hysterical reflexive narrative; the third episode is riotous. But no matter where we venture in this world, everyone is part of the self-serving industry: a doctor has an idea for an app, as does a sales clerk at a big box store, and even the attractive people at parties are paid to be there.
Which is why it is so important that Richie and his friends become likeable and winning. Richie is the everyman, the outsider; slightly neurotic and boyishly cute. He is a naïve entrepreneur who slowly finds it in himself to focus and toughen up, and the only one who's not all surface. You absolutely want him to succeed, but at the same time, you can’t help but also be someone who thinks he should have just taken the money and gotten out of this creepy, haughty world that has no grasp on reality and nothing the least bit redeeming.
‘Silicon Valley’ premieres on Sunday, April 6 at 10/9c on HBO.