HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ has potential but no belly laughs
A review of the new comedy from Mike Judge, creator of “King of the Hill,” “Beavis and Butt-head” and “Office Space.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
10 p.m. Sundays, HBO
In the new HBO deadpan comedy series “Silicon Valley,” creator Mike Judge attempts to do for Internet startup culture what he has already done for North Texas suburbia (“King of the Hill”), teenage stoners (“Beavis and Butt-head”), and, of course, corporate drones everywhere (“Office Space”). Unfortunately, based on the first five episodes sent for review, “Silicon Valley” only hints at the hilariously subversive brilliance those projects displayed at their best.
Thomas Middleditch is Richard, a shy, nervous computer nerd laboring over a new app he’s developing called Pied Piper at an incubator, a Silicon Valley home shared with several other guys working on apps of their own and overseen by obnoxious Erlich (T.J. Miller). After a couple of bullying “brogrammers” from the Internet giant Hooli’s get ahold of Richard’s app and discover how revolutionary it is, a bidding war erupts for his talents.
The owner of Hooli, Gavin Belson (Matt Ross, “Big Love”), wants to throw $10 million at him to buy it outright while rival tech visionary Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) wants to give him a lesser amount to fund a company that Richard would run. Against this backdrop, Richard has to deal with the rest of his nerd herd at the incubator, including his less talented best friend Big Head (Josh Brenner), who’s working on something that’s a more explicit version of the Tinder dating app. Then there’s Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), who doesn’t get along with Satanist-with-Christian-tendencies Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and Erlich, who wants 10 percent of anything Richard earns. On top of that, straight-arrow Hooli honcho Jared (Zach Woods) thinks Richard is brilliant and leaves his cushy job to get in on the Pied Piper ground floor.
There is some humor that works that’s pure Judge: “Don’t think of it as a cubicle. Just think of it as a neutral-colored enclosure, about yea high, around your workspace.” But much of it comes across as inside baseball — or, since we’re dealing with geek culture, kickball — that could leave those outside the tech loop scratching their heads.
Certainly, there are many issues “Silicon Valley” could tackle and mock — from the lack of women in both the corporate and social spheres to culture clashes between American-born and Asian-born programmers and engineers as well as how non-tech locals who predated the boom are dealing with the changes. There are signs that “Silicon Valley” will grow into something a bit more broad-based. In the fifth episode, Erlich, in an attempt to be edgy, hires a working-class Latino tagger to design Pied Piper’s logo while Dinesh and Gilfoyle argue over whether Pied Piper is more like punk-rock or jazz.
These are inspired moments that show “Silicon Valley” has the potential be much more than “The Big Bang Theory” with more tech jargon and cruder sex jokes.