Friday 23 March 2018

Silicon Valley: 'Smart, sharp and funny - the best comedy from HBO in a long time'

HBO's Silicon Valley starts on Sky Atlantic on July 16
HBO's Silicon Valley starts on Sky Atlantic on July 16

Pat Stacey

After the IT Crowd and The Big Bang Theory, does television really have room for a third sitcom about socially maladroit nerds? Or is it geeks?

I've never been sure about the distinction - although I imagine a nerd of geek would be quite happy to outline the subtle differences to me.

Anyway, if said sitcom is as smart, sharp, and funny as HBO's Silicon Valley, beginning on Sky Atlantic tomorrow night, the answer is an emphatic "Yes, bring it on!"

The IT Crowd was unmistakably the product of the singular comedy brain of Graham Linehan, whereas the very different but equally brilliant Big Bang is the kind of finely-polished, big-belly-laugh sitcom only American television's writers room method can do properly.

Silicon Valley is a different beast again.  It's satire, made by one of US television's most able practitioners of that dying comedy art, Mike Judge, who nailed Generation X with Beavis and Butt-Head, the cleverest show about stupidity every made, and encapsulated conservative-with-a-small-c Middle America in the rather gentler King of the Hill.

Silicon Valley, however, has more in common with Judge's cult movie Office Space.  It's amazing it's taken television this long to get around to skewering so eminently deserving a target audience as California's tech Neverland.  Judge and his creative cohorts, John Altschuler and Mike Krinsky, have done such a comprehensively scathing takedown job, and done it hilariously, you can't imagine anyone ever daring, or needing to touch the subject again.

Silicon Valley's hero is the debilitatingly shy and mousy Richard Hendricks (the immensely likeable Thomas Middleditch), a lowly code writer at a suspiciously Google-like computer giant called Hooli.  Even the company programmers bully him, a sure sign he is the uncoolest dude in the building.

He's ridiculed when he develops a naff music app called Pied Piper - until someone in the company realises the app contains a groundbreaking data compression algorithm so super-fast it will revolutionise computing.

In a heartbeat, Richard is the hottest guy in the Valley.  Hooli's CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), a messianic, Jobs-like software guru whose spurious, quasi mystical pronouncements inspire grovelling awe in his underlings, offers him $10m for the app.

But venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch, who sadly died from lung cancer during production), a loopy but charismatic oddball who drives an eco-friendly car so narrow it can fit through the gaps in parking spaces, urges Richard to build his own company and offers him $200,000 for a tiny stake.

Richard decides to go with Gregory.  Riding high on his coattails is startup entrepreneur Erlich Bachman (TJ Miller), a deluded blowhard who can clear a room in seconds and has been coasting on the success of an app he designed years ago.

Mike Judge, a physics graduate, worked as a programmer in Paolo Alto in the 1980s and hated it so much he quit after three months.

His merciless eye for detail - and especially for the self-mythologising, self-aggrandising, "let's make the world a better place while we're becoming billionaires" codology that infects the industry - is what gives Silicon Valley its comic drive.

The dialogue is HD-sharp-funny, the performances uniformly excellent and the characters, from the largest to the smallest, vivid and rounded, a rarity in a sitcom.

It could turn out to be the best thing Judge has ever done.  It's certainly the best comedy to come out of HBO in a long time.

Silicon Valley begins tomorrow July 16 on Sky Atlantic, 9pm


Online Editors

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment