SXSW 2014: SILICON VALLEY Review

by     Posted 168 days ago

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Let the timeliness of the core concept pull you in and then Mike Judge takes it from there.  Not only does his new show, Silicon Valley, offer an abundance of highly relevant and insightful thoughts on the state of the dotcom craze, but they’re all packaged within an engaging scenario brimming with sharp humor, endearingly eccentric characters and the chance to come along for the ride while they try to make millions.  Hit the jump for my review.

silicon-valley-castThe show centers on Richard (Thomas Middleditch), a familiar nerd-type with minimal social skills.  Even though his tech prowess lands him a stable gig working for one of the best of the best, the company Hooli, his passion is back at home.  Richard is one of four tenants at Erlich’s (TJ Miller) “incubator,” an arrangement where Erlich puts a roof over their heads in exchange for 10% of whatever they’re developing.  Even though Richard doesn’t seem to have all that much going for him, and is certainly treated that way by his Hooli co-workers, the project he’s developing at Erlich’s, an algorithm he dubs the Pied Piper, has the potential to spawn a billion dollar company.

The large majority of the first half of the pilot episode is dedicated to introducing the viewer to the oddities of Silicon Valley, and Judge has a very thorough yet accessible approach to doing just that.  If you’re aware of the quirks of this world, it’s really just one whip smart crack at the culture after the next, but even if you’re unfamiliar with certain terminology, game references or even if you have a tough time digesting the details of exactly what the Pied Piper entails, Judge takes the time to wrap all of those finer points in a more universal context, ensuring there’s something everyone can connect to and enjoy.

Judge strikes an immaculate balance between humor, intrigue and emotion, turning the first two episodes of the season into pieces that are a downright riot to sit through, but also stick with you thereafter.  Whether or not you can directly relate to trying to hit it big in the start-up realm, the fact that Richard’s endeavor really just boils down to trying to achieve a dream serves as an instant connecting factor, and that’s an element even the tech illiterate can get behind.  Of course there are moments when characters launch into highly detailed explanations of the inner workings of this algorithm or, most memorably, when Martin Starr’s Gilfoyle spits out a passionate, determined plea in an effort to prove he’s one of Pied Piper’s most valuable assets, but they’re all so well woven into the narrative, picking up on the information that will have the greatest impact on the plot progression and the characters is effortless.

silicon-valley-mike-judgeEven though Richard and the gang are clearly very advanced, they’re somewhat new to Silicon Valley, so the episodes do come with a welcomed learning curve.  Richard may know what makes the Pied Piper run, but when it comes to moving beyond his Hooli lackey position, negotiating with a venture capitalist and spearheading his very own company, he’s in the dark, and that leaves the door wide open for a number of other main players to establish themselves as necessary components.

Miller’s Erlich is probably the most memorable of the bunch because he’s got the biggest mouth, but thanks to Miller’s spot-on timing, the large majority of his jokes do work.  Erlich also boasts an intriguing background having made his own dotcom million dollar deal with which he supports the incubator, but his personality is grating to the point that you’ll wonder why Richard lets him tag along at all.  Hopefully the writers will eventually strike a balance that’ll show Erlich is a valuable asset to the team beyond simply being there because of his 10% deal.

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Starr’s Gilfoyle and Kumail Nanjiani’s Dinesh do manage to make an impression with minimal screen time in the first two episodes, but it’s Josh Brener’s Big Head that shines the most courtesy of the progression of the plot in episode two, which includes a certain predicament that puts Big Head’s relationship with Richard on a particularly interesting path.  Amanda Crew is in the mix as well playing Monica, the eccentric billionaire venture capitalist Peter Gregory’s (Christopher Evan Welch) assistant, but as the character responsible for connecting the dots between the incubator and a potential financier, she spends these first two episodes laying the groundwork for that rather than building her character – a necessary compromise.  One more main player worth keeping an eye on is Zach Woods’ Jared who easily carves out a place for himself and proves his worth, but in an effort to steer clear of spoilers regarding the decisions he makes in these early episodes, we’ll leave it at that.

Silicon Valley’s first episode is a model pilot.  It establishes a vibrant, intriguing and entertaining world with high stakes, fills it with characters that are appealing and bright yet flawed and inexperienced, and then challenges them to rise to the occasion and seize a huge opportunity.  It’s got all the elements necessary to suggest that each and every 30-minute episode will feature a new, interesting step of this process through which the characters will grow and, sure enough, the second episode proves it.  Pied Piper is an exciting and important opportunity for the guys of the incubator and based on these first two episodes, it looks as though it’ll be a pleasure to come back each and every week to see the company try to take another step towards becoming the real deal.

Grade: A   




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