Friday, April 22, 2016

Idiot Boxing: Silicon Valley, seasons 1 & 2

The five original members of Pied Piper. Each and every one
is capable of providing gut laughs, and not just from laughing
at them. They all dish out more than a few great comic barbs
at each other and the bizarre, self-obsessed characters who
populate the tech world in
Silicon Valley.
Creator: Mike Judge

It seems appropriate to do a review of Silicon Valley's first two seasons, with the third season beginning in just a few days:

When the man behind Office Space decides to do a show based on geeky computer programmers trying to build a viable startup in Silicon Valley, you know there's a good chance for it to work. Thankfully, this HBO show lives up to its potential.

Season 1 is the "origin" story of the lovably nerdy Charlie Wiseman, a extremely talented computer programmer who works at a low-rent "think tank" run out of a modest house in Silicon Valley. Charlie and a handful of fellow programmers are aspiring to create the next "big thing" in software. Charlie creates a compression program, dubbed Pied Piper, which appears to be just the sort of cutting edge game-changer that could grow into a billion-dollar company. The trick is navigating the treacherous waters of greedy, jealous, and self-involved tech billionaires and their cronies, who all want some or all of Charlie's creation.

As you might expect, Charlie and his fellow programmers fit into some of the known stereotypes for computer wizards. Mainly, they are extremely intelligent with computer language, but can be inept in other areas of life. The refreshing thing is that the core group of five guys are different enough that they never become stale. Charlie and Dinesh are probably the most typical - socially awkward, especially around women, despite their considerable smarts. Others, though, are more unique. Their business consultant and partner, Jared, lacks any computer skills and much of a backbone, but he does possess essential business acumen. The antisocial and quietly combative Gilfoyle seems completely comfortable in his own skin - a skin which houses an unrepentant Satanist (yes, that's true, and yes, it's hilarious). The self-styled "leader" of the crew is Ehrlich Bachman, whose ego, overconfidence, and penchant for bombastic displays of grandiosity make for a welcome and comedic balance to the more reserved engineers of Pied Piper. And unlike a show like The Big Bang Theory, Silicon Valley rounds its characters out so that they are more than laughably awkward brainiacs.

Though a comedy first and foremost, there is the dramatic
thrill of watching the Pied Piper guys work to try and build
something from the ground up.
Though it may not hit as often as the Mike Judge classic Office Space, the writing is plenty solid. Using Silicon Valley as the setting gives the writers an immensely fertile ground for bizarre characters who can interact with each other in hilarious ways. Bachman's hiring of Mexican thug muralist Chuy to paint the Pied Piper logo in season one and the Piper team's agreement to work for a pornography company in season two are highlights, but there are plenty of other memorable interactions.

What makes the show work beyond the comedy is that there is actually a compelling underdog story at work. Charlie Wiseman's attempt to turn his brilliant idea into a different kind of company is a noble one. The compromises he has to make, though couched in humorous details, feel authentic enough to add just the right amount of drama to the proceedings.

I'm glad I've discovered this show while it is still relatively young. I'm also hopeful that HBO will avoid the mistake that so many network shows make in dragging a successful series out far too long. Mike Judge and the other showrunners seem to have a clear idea of their main story arc, and I'll be glad to watch and laugh along as it all unfolds.