Apr 7 2014, 8:59am CDT | by Forbes
If you caught Mike Judge’s new show on HBO last night, you ought to know what it’s called. Characters made at least five references to Silicon Valley, as the show is named, throughout the half hour. In a show that’s trying to bring the tech scene to a broader audience, at least two things are odd about that. First, so much of what’s happening out here is centered in San Francisco these days, not further south. Second, nearly no one actually says “Silicon Valley,” let alone over and over. But Judge can be forgiven these transgressions because our hero is about to quit his day job at hooli, an over-the-top fictionalized version of Google to start his own company. And geographically, Google sits in the heart of “the valley.” Oh, yes, and the show is pretty entertaining.
Richard (Thomas Middleditch), has been working nights building something he hopes will be “the Google of music” and allow musicians to search out existing works so they can avoid copying from one another. But as Erlich (T.J. Miller), who owns the house Richard lives in tells him, “Nobody gives a s— about stealing each others music.” Erlich made a small fortune of his own selling a company called Aviato and lets people live in his home rent free in exchange for 10% of their companies. He calls it an incubator, but again the details feel off. Richard may be a lowbie at hooli and rents here may be high, but he’d be making a good living. This isn’t a guy who needs free rent and also isn’t a guy who would successfully convince Erlich to give him such a deal easily.
Because he’s working a day job, he’d be unlikely to produce the next big thing so Erlich is basically giving Richard a room for 10% of what’s especially likely to be nothing. And, as the story of Episode 1 tells us, Richard’s product, Pied Piper, is pretty terrible. Until, that is, he shows it to some other hooli engineers who realize that buried in its terribleness is a fantastic compression algorithm, a “game changer.” My technology sensibilities are again offended when they call it “lossless,” meaning that you can perfectly recreate the original unlike, say, with an MP3 where you intentionally lose some data in exchange for a really small file. Math experts have done most of will ever be done with lossless compression already; some guy working nights and weekends didn’t produce a breakthrough in this field, alas.
Judge, who has a tech background, claims he tried to get a lot of the details right but seems especially willing to just get lots of them wrong. Fortunately, that doesn’t stop the show from being at times laugh-out-loud funny. And like The Big Bang Theory, which often goes off into riffs about quantum physics, videogames and subjects not all viewers are well versed in, the humor on Silicon Valley will often translate past any language barrier.
The character of Peter Gregory (Christopher Even Welch) is modeled on PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel , who was an early investor in Facebook . The episode takes Thiel’s real-life crusade against overpriced colleges and has Gregory deliver a TED talk on the subject: “College has become a cruel expensive joke on the poor and the middle class,” Gregory says.”
“You are a dangerous man, spewing ignorance,” shoots back a man in the audience. Gregory continues and the man says. ”The true value of a college eduction is intangible.”
“The true value of snake oil is intangible too,” Gregory deadpans.
It’s after that speech that Richard meets Gregory in the parking lot, attempting to pitch the idea for his company. Gregory is bored with him, but his right-hand Monica (Amanda Crew), the lone female regular of the cast at this point, says she’ll follow up. Eventually, Gregory gets Richard on the phone while he’s meeting with hooli’s CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross; fans of HBO’s Big Love are treated to an inside joke during this scene that’s especially amusing) and starts a bidding war of sorts for Richard’s company.
Belson wants to own the whole thing; Gregory wants, “a small piece but the company will belong to you, not Gavin Belson.” He offers him guidance, seed capital and the chance to build a billion-dollar business. Of course, Richard decides to go that route, enlists the men living in Erlich’s house to be his employees and they’re off. Parts of that ring true amid the absurdity of it all, though again the details are off.
Still, this is a promising pilot, with Judge’s sensibilities from Office Space very much on display along with the HBO comedy vibe that heightens tension in completely absurd ways. Fans of the network have seen this style on everything from Entourage to Girls. Whether Silicon Valley is the next big thing remains to be seen, but as we say around here, it’s probably worth investing in the first round. The potential is there for something interesting.
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