An 8-bit guide to Silicon Valley’s brilliance
Chris Bryant | On 12, May 2016
When Richard and his friends inadvertently create a world-class compression algorithm within their music app, ‘Pied Piper’, while working for Silicon Valley’s big guns, they have to decide whether to sell their work to the man or try and make it on their own. That’s the starting point for Silicon Valley.
So what’s it all about? And why should you be watching? With Season 1 to 6 available on Sky Box Sets, here’s an 8-bit guide to the brilliantly fresh comedy:
1. The smarts
Silicon Valley is very, very smart. Creator Mike Judge has a degree in physics and has helped to programme FA/18 fighter jets. He created the show after working in Silicon Valley at a new-age tech company and finding the experience extremely bland.
A major win for the show is that it never crosses into poking fun at its characters: the joke is never that these guys are nerds in a world of norms, more than these guys live in a totally different world. The jokes about hexadecimal code are as common as the personal barbs at one another and the context of the more complex references is perfectly designed to be accessible to even the least tech-savvy viewer. To add to this, the show refers to the ‘Weissman’ score of compression – this was designed with Stanford Professor Tsachy Weissman exclusively for the show. No cheap superhero references and factless science puns here.
2. The cast
The cast are far and away the powerhouse behind the show. Each actor is fantastically cast to ensure that their character, no matter how bitter, rude or smug, is still somehow likeable. This is especially impressive when confronted with TJ Miller’s Erlich Bachman. Miller is probably most recognisable as Deadpool’s no-nonsense barman, but is more abrasive as Silicon Valley’s leading mouthpiece. Richard and his cohorts live within TJ Miller’s innovation incubator rent-free, and, in return, give him 10 per cent of their creations and put up with his unfiltered, unapologetic abuse.
3. Richard Hendricks
Richard Hendricks, played wonderfully by Thomas Middleditch, is a socially uncertain coder as tech giant Hooli. Disillusioned with their vague mission and meandering rhetoric, Richard is also working on an anti-copyright-infringement app called Pied Piper. Accidentally beginning a technological arms race for the code within his product, Richard is thrust into the limelight and forced to step-up in order to ensure he gets what he deserves for his creation. The thing is, ‘making it’ is only the first step.
4. The tech giants
At each end of Mike Judge’s well-balanced spectrum sit the tech giants. At one end, the soulless, corporate, faux-philosophical nonsense spouter Gavin Belson. Played by Matt Ross, Belson is the least likeable of the Silicon Valley characters, not least because his wallet seems to have caused illusions of Zen and meanness simultaneously. At the other end, and no less weird, sits Peter Gregory. Often quiet, often not listening, Gregory is a dispassionate oddball, who seems to believe that Pied Piper can make it on its own. Richard is often caught between the two extreme’s ideologies, while also hoping that someone will give him a concrete answer on just about anything.
5. The team
Along with brash motivator Erlich Bachman, Richard is blessed with friends to help him along his journey to success. Comedy juggernaut Martin Starr is Bertram Gilfoyle, a deadpan Satanist whose weirdness knows no real bounds and will often prank his co-worker and friend, Dinesh Chugtai (played by Kumail Nanjiani). Dinesh’s party trick is unadultered sarcasm and an odd talent for being somehow more morally questionable than the illegal immigrant Satanist. Dinesh and Gilfoyle, when not aggravating each other, can be found coding for Pied Piper.
6. The laughs
Dispensing with offensive stereotypes of nerds, Mike Judge creates a world where weirdness is certainly more common, but far less important. Everyone in the show is pretty weird, Richard himself being the closest to an exception. The show is far less about hyper-intellectual technology experts and more about a group of misfits attempting the run a business with a Holy Grail of a product and little else. It’s warm and it’s endearing and it’s brimming with character chemistry that only adds to the style and culture, which happily gives way to even more perfectly delivered dialogue. Silicon Valley plays out less like a sitcom and more like a witty drama staffed by a variety of talented comedians. It’s hilarious.
7. The story
Silicon Valley rarely plays out like a half-hour comedy. The story pushes forward at a brilliant rate, always unfolding the next chapter of Pied Piper’s progress, while also managing to construct the very oddest and funniest of situations. The comedy and the drama work side-by-side to bring you a captivating tale about a sweet, nervous genius learning to fight his corner that also contains some raw, improvised one-liners, some terrifyingly immoral decisions and a work environment so chaotic and toxic that seeing these guys as rockstars isn’t much of a stretch.
8. The truth
Despite all of the above, Silicon Valley is pretty accurate. A group of software engineers wrote to Judge and claimed it was like “watching a mirror”. Mike Judge’s brilliant eye for workplace satire (he literally wrote the handbook via Office Space) was so dead-on that even tech-titan Elon Musk was forced to comment. Admittedly, Musk suggested that the show needed more parties and that the real Silicon Valley was somehow less nerdy and weirder than the show suggests, but TJ Miller donned his Erlich Bachman hat for a second to respond in a profanity-laden rant about how Musk’s comments were more about Mike Judge’s personal satirisations of him and less about his issue with the show. One thing’s for sure: if your satire is sharp enough to get Elon Musk involved, you’re probably fairly close to the mark.
Overall, the show’s masterful cast coupled with Mike Judge’s expertise and eye for tone creates a unique show that’s 20 times smarter and wittier than its sitcom counterparts, and most certainly worth a watch.
Silicon Valley Season 1 to 6 is available on Sky Comedy until 13th February 2021. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream live and on-demand through VOD service NOW, which costs £9.99 a month, no contract. A 7-day free trial is available.
Photo: Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved.