April 7, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Silicon Valley”


SILICON VALLEY:  Sunday 10PM on HBO – DVR Alert

There’s no algorithm (yet) to predict compatibility between TV series, so we don’t know yet how SILICON VALLEY will fare in the ratings, or for that matter how its quality will hold up over time, but based on its pilot, it seems to be as perfect an hour-mate for HBO’s Veep as one can imagine.  While taking place in a different setting and with a softer, more affectionate tone, it shares high intelligence and comic insight with its new partner, as well as a clear-eyed view of the inbred craziness it depicts.

The title is descriptive:  Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge, Dave Krinsky and John Altschuler (Judge also directed the pilot), is set in Nerd Wonderland, where unprepossessing men (they’re just about all men, at least in the show, which includes one token “cute girl” for seasoning) are just one of those algorithms away from millions, if not billions–and a misstep or two away from being failures.  Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch, whose real name would have worked for the character too) occupies the center of the story, creator of an app that no one wants, but which contains a magic algorithm, one that permits uniquely high-quality search of compressed digital material.  He’s faced with a classic dilemma:  take the millions upfront that mogul Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) is offering him, or the much smaller amount from entrepreneur Peter Gregory (the late Christopher Evan Welch, who passed away during production)–which would allow him to keep control of his new company.  If Richard just took the money, there wouldn’t be much of a show, so it’s no surprise that by pilot’s end, Richard bands together with housemates Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani, from Franklin and Bash), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr, a Freaks and Geeks veteran), and Big Head (Josh Brener from The Internship)–and Erlich (T.J. Miller), who by offering free rent in his “incubator” house, owns 10% of Richard–to turn the idea into a company.

The Big Bang Theory-ish nerd bonding is fun, but what sets Silicon Valley apart are its details and observations.  Judge created Beavis & Butthead and King of the Hill, among others, yet his most beloved project may still be the movie Office Space, and Silicon has that kind of eye for its setting.  From the ecologically friendly corporate buses that the guys take to work each day to the prototype single-seat vehicle Peter Gregory drives (“That is one narrow car,” Richard notes as it threads its way between two parked autos) to the inspirational signs (“It Takes Change to Make Change”) posted as propaganda in the workplace, everything feels both satirical and right.  Judge and his fellow writers have a fine feel for passive-aggressive nastiness and banter (Dinesh helpfully suggests to Satan worshipper Gilfoyle that he add a “This End Up” tattoo to clarify his upside-down crucifix) and trappings (the desultory reaction when Kid Rock performs at a house party).  Even the local doctors have an app to pitch.

It would be very easy for Silicon Valley to fall into cartoon, given its subject matter and characters, but in its pilot, at least, it keeps the protagonists likable and its comedy crisp, with plenty of potential for storylines to come.  If it can hold to that level of quality, it’ll be a fine addition to the HBO roster.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."