April 14, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Silicon Valley”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on SILICON VALLEY:  Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch) is a computer programmer with dreams of inventing the next big billion-dollar thing–and he may have actually done it, with an algorithm that allows for compression and duplication of video, music, etc without loss of quality.  Offered $10M for his product by financier Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), Richard opts instead to take $200K from Belson’s rival Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), with the promise that he can build the company himself, along with friends/partners Erich (T.J. Miller), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and his oldest friend Big Head (Josh Brener).

Episode 2:  The heart sank at the opening sequence of Silicon Valley‘s first post-pilot episode, written by Story Editor Carson Mell and directed by series co-creator Mike Judge.  Erich had ordered a stripper to perform at a celebration party for Richard’s deal, but of course the awkward, virginal computer geeks had no idea how to act around a lapdancer, let alone the possibility of sex.  (Dinesh explained that he hadn’t even shaken hands with a girl until he was 17.)  It all felt like an R-rated outtake from a Big Bang Theory episode, the single most obvious and dull direction for the series to go.

Happily, that turned out to be the low point of the half-hour, which became much more interesting once it returned to its core story, the creation of Richard’s company.  To Richard’s shock, Peter Gregory required Richard to act like a real businessman in exchange for the $200K, complete with a business plan and a justification for each person employed and any shares in the company they were going to get.  That prompted Richard to bring in Jared (Zach Woods, from The Office), as nerdy as the rest of the guys but able to talk business-speak.  More uncomfortably, it made Richard force his friends to justify their participation in the nascent company, a particular challenge for Big Head, who didn’t even try to make himself sound more important than he was.  The episode ended well, with Richard’s decision to keep Big Head on anyway preempted by Gavin Belson’s giving him a $600K promotion just to keep him from Richard–and with Big Head setting up next week’s crisis by reporting to Richard as a double agent that Belson was planning to reverse engineer Richard’s technology.

That dreadful opening scene aside, Silicon Valley lived up to the promise of its pilot, with characters who were funny and believable, and an exaggerated but not untruthful picture of what it’s like to have to begin thinking as an entrepreneur.  Woods is a strong addition to the main cast; on the other hand, in her one scene in the episode, Amanda Crew’s Monica again wasn’t given any material to make her more than “the girl.”  The cast continues to be adept at finding different slices of geekdom to portray, and in finding the bits of aggression that lurk amid their low-key personality tics.

A TV series learns by experience, and hopefully Silicon Valley has delivered its last nerds-meet-stripper sequence.  When the show sticks to its target territory, it continues to be first-rate.


PILOT + 1:  Needs Some Bug Fixes, But Still Operational

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."