Mike Judge‘s (Office Space) new series Silicon Valley is finely-honed satire. It’s technically a comedy, but with so much to lampoon about the tech industry, the series shows restraint by taking its time and building in both visual and conversational jokes. Comedy pilots can be a series’ weakest point, but “Minimum Viable Product” was (probably thanks to Judge’s experience and success) a strong start for a show that knows its purpose and the story it wants to tell. Hit the jump for why you don’t even know the half of it (and neither does Congress).
Like with Beavis and Butthead so many years ago, Judge shows a keen perception when it comes to cultural cues (something that also plays out on King of the Hill‘s focus on a particular American subset). The series is partially based on Judge’s own experiences in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, and it appears that — fundamentally — little has changed. The focus is on development, sure, but the end game is money. It’s a theme Judge has explored in some of his other work, where the eccentricities and cult of personality become stranger and stranger the higher on the totem pole one goes.
In “Minimum Viable Product,” we’re introduced to Richard (Thomas Middleditch), who has developed a music copyright program called Pied Piper. Though it’s better than some of the work by his fellow programmers (like the Nip App, which tells you how close you are to a woman with erect nipples, or another: BitSoup), the app is largely uninspired. Until, it’s discovered, that he’s accidentally stumbled onto something huge: the ability for his app to search compressed files.
The biding war this sets up between a Steve Jobs-esque head honcho (Matt Ross) at a Google-esque corps called Hooli (Richard’s current employer) and Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), a venture capitalist who wants to help develop and not just acquire, puts Richard in a terrible position. Wooed by the money on the one hand, he ultimately chooses freedom and his own company, which he hopes to populate with his roommates Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Big Head (Josh Brener), and their landlord, former hacker Erlich (T.J. Miller), who owns a stake in Pied Piper since it was created in his tech “incubator.”
This general trajectory houses the much smaller and incredibly funny and perceptive parts of “Minimum Viable Product,” almost every line of which deserves to be quoted. The physical comedy, too (such as Gregory after his TED talk, or Erlich clipping his hair back to eat ramen) is all worth mentioning. Silicon Valley‘s inaugural episode swept by quickly, and was so chocked-full of jokes. But the show’s comedy isn’t overwhelming — like HBO’s recent comedy Looking, it’s understated, and let’s the situations and settings speak for themselves. Techie Richard makes for a genial protagonist, even moreso than Looking‘s Patrick (the magnetic Jonathan Groff, though Middleditch makes Richard sweeter and less cynical), who also worked as a programmer at a tech company.
But Looking lacked the specificity of the cult of personality found in Silicon Valley (because that wasn’t its focus), where doe-eyed believers tool around in absurdly narrow cars and create voluntary-but-mandatory retreats. It gives the idea of an Eden-like surface with so much falseness and darkness underneath. And it’s only just begun.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Any episode that starts with a fully-formed Kid Rock joke is always going to get an A from me.
— “Kid Rock is the poorest person here. Aside from you guys. There’s 40 billion dollars worth of wealth here, and you guys are standing around drinking shrimp and talking about what cum tastes like” – Erlich.
— The little touches, like Dinesh discussing posts on an Asperger’s dating site … so brilliant.
— “I Know H.T.M.L. (How To Meet Ladies)” — Erlich’s shirt.
— Lots of talk of men and women not mixing, and indeed, there was only one female who looks to be part of the recurring cast — Amanda Crew as Monica, Peter Gregory’s associate. There’s still plenty of time, though. Judge tells men’s stories though, so I’m not expecting a lot more women on the scene. Not a criticism necessarily, just an observation.
— Monica: “He’s invested in a GPS app that tracks people via their phone.” Richard: “Creepy.” Monica: “You don’t know the half of it. And neither does Congress.”
— “They always travel in groups of five, these programmers. There’s always a tall skinny white guy, short skinny Asian guy, fat guy with a ponytail, some guy with crazy facial hair and then an east Indian guy. It’s like they trade guys until they all have the right group” – Belson.
— Big Love fans will recognize Matt Ross (Alby!), and revel in how awesomely he embodies the smarmy exec here.
— Nice cameo by Review‘s Andy Daly as Richard’s doctor. Of course he was pitching an app …
— Erlich: “Like Steve.” Richard: “Jobs or Wozniak?” Erlich: “Jobs.” Richard: “Jobs was a poseur, he didn’t even write code.” Erlich: “You just disappeared up your own asshole.”
— “Just think different. No, wait, that’s Apple. Just do it! Oh, that’s Nike. Let’s just … make it happen.” – Richard
— If you want to recommend the show to your friends who don’t have HBO, the first episode will be on YouTube for most of the month.