They had me at “Hasidic wedding.” That’s one of the rapid-fire jokes made during the opener of HBO’s new comedy series, “Silicon Valley.”
We watch as the main characters, a geek-tourage of male coders, nerds its way around a million-dollar party for the fictional tech company “Goolibibs.”
At the soiree, the entertainment is provided by Kid Rock, “the poorest person here.” And the wedding gag refers to the way the genders tend to part like the Red Sea, with male tech potentates talking on one side of the pool, and the pretty women, some hired for the event, on the other.
The founder then gets up and gives a speech that is pure billionaire geek bubble-speak, that ends with
“We’re making the world a better place … through constructing elegant hierarchies for maximum code reuse and extensibility.”
So far, it’s not exactly fictional. Tech culture makes its own satire daily.
But the writers do have some knowing fun with the language and folkways: the main company is a Google-like “Hooli” that has its hallways festooned with meaningful corporate mantras like, “It takes change to make change.” And where the marketing department has “bicycle meetings.” Plus, there are some wonderful actors shod in all kinds of bad sandals.
The plot revolves around a previously bullied, sweater-wearing dork, Richard Hendriks (beautifully played by Thomas Middletich), who lives in an incubator house on the peninsula. (The owner allows them to live for free in exchange for a percentage of whatever projects the tenant coder bros manage to sell.)
While working on a music site for song writers, Richard unintentionally creates a killer compression algorithm that becomes the source of a bidding war — it instantly goes from $600,000 all the way up to $10 million.
One of the bidders is a self-righteous venture capitalist, Peter Gregory (a Peter Theil type), who inveighs against college and offers $100,000 internships to kids who leave school and work in startups. Richard corners him at a TED talk.
The other is Gavin Belson, the megalomaniac and cult-leader like founder of Hooli, where Richard works, whose staffers get out of their nap pods to gather around him with hilariously fawning reverence.
This is all pretty familiar territory, but what I like most about the pilot is the way it skewers the idea that these people are gods who just live to give back.
One of the co-writers is Mike Judge of “Office Space” and “King of the Hill" fame, both genius-level works. Not only does he capture the zeitgeist, but he also knows how to reduce it to its funniest essence, whether he’s parodying soulless corporations or encapsulating the deadening, but sometimes sweet, daily life of a small Texas town.
One of the recurring nuggets here is about the incubator owner, a mostly clueless Falstaffian personality named Erlich Bachman (T.J Miller) who wears clips in his long hair that go nicely with his beard. He got rich from selling his own start-up, “Aviato,” a name he constantly mentions while placing a heavy faux Italian flourish on the “ato.” That’s a funny detail.
So the show is worth watching for the writing and acting alone. One of the problems with the pilot, though, is that it obviously was written several months ago, and includes ripped-from-the-headline jokes (like about “Titstare,” the app that had to be pulled from TechCrunch) that already feel dated.
Another, smaller, cavil is that the youthful cast is not quite youthy enough. Most of the characters who live in the house seem to be in their late 20s or early 30s. And we already know that the cofounders of SnapChat, who were in Richard’s position, and ended up spurning billion dollar offers from both Facebook and Google, are 23 and 25, respectively.
Life is so ahead of art here that no matter how cynical you get, it’s hard to keep up. Plus, there is one female character in the whole show. Should “Silicon Valley” just mirror the reality – a flagrant dearth of women — or do more to satirize the problem?
Still, the first episode ends with Richard deciding to not to sell his algorithm for $10 million to Hooli, and instead takes Peter Gregory’s $200,000 seed money. So that seeds quite a story arc. (As one of Richard’s roommate tells him, he’s a “genius programmer but not so much with decision making.” )
And that story—of a young man awkwardly making his way in a new world—is timeless. After all, Richard can always tout the that other Hooli slogan: “No fear, no failure.”
P.S. Is everyone ready for the “Mad Men” debut on Sunday? Last season ended with Don stripped bare, severed from the agency that was the focus of his life, and taking a trip to the Rust Belt to show his children the wreck of a whorehouse he grew up in.
Obviously, he, like the place of his birth, needs rebuilding. This won’t be the last season, since, as they did with “Breaking Bad,” AMC is splitting the final 14 episodes into two. And from the look of the psychedelic promos, it seems as though now, everyone is suited up, back at work, and moving to the West Coast. But this time, has Don, a man who keeps recreating himself, run out of renewal?
See you with the recap next week!