The title of HBO’s SILICON VALLEY pilot is “Minimum Viable Product,” but the series is more than minimally viable. Tackling the world of computer programming in a high brow manner, the show (from Beavis & Butt-head creator / Office Space director Mike Judge, among others) follows a group of intelligent, nerdy guys who find themselves both in and other of their element while pursuing their careers and dreams. It’s funny and authentic.
The main character, at least in the first episode, is Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch, CollegeHumor.com, The Wolf of Wall Street). Richard creates a website he’s passionate about where people can check their music to see if it infringes on any copyrights. This may sound like a narrow pet project that would be hard to garner interest in, and it is. But while some bullying co-workers are checking it out to find fodder to pick on Richard for, they discover his search algorithm is revolutionary and could change the entire internet landscape.
Richard is such an interesting character, and surely one familiar to most people. He is very focused on his passion, not even realizing the true implications of his creation. Even when he does, he’s mild-mannered enough to waffle on making any decisions. But he’s also got enough spine to distance himself from the competing voices and consider what he really wants, and that’s what he goes with. It makes him complex and different from most people on TV.
Even though it’s hard to see Richard get knocked down by his peers, it does feel realistic that the valley would have a high school-esque hierarchy. True, even the “cool” kids in this environment were probably geeks growing up, but with a lack of maturity, meaningful female partners, and discipline, the employers being lax to encourage creativity, it makes sense that base human nature would flourish.
This continues even in Richard’s home. His best friend, Big Head (Josh Brener, Glory Daze), is a true pal, but leader of the house, Erlich (T.J. Miller, The Goodwin Games), is more interested in using Richard to get his piece of the pie, demanding a 10% cut of whatever is created while living in his “incubator.” Another roommate, Gilfoyle (Martin Starr, NTSF:SD:SUV, Veronica Mars), also seems disinterested until Richard offers to let him work on the site, and then he comes around.
The house itself generates most of my favorite scenes in the first episode. It’s like a clubhouse, boys living like they would without parents, a free-wheeling place for guys to just hang out with guys. It may get more serious soon, as Richard’s baby is nurtured into a full-scale business, but hopefully the dynamic of the residents, meaning the four listed in the preceding paragraph plus Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani, Franklin & Bash, Portlandia), the token Indian, will stay intact because it is fantastic.
Even outside the dwelling, the world is fully fleshed out and interesting. From buses owned by, and playing ads for, the business the employees riding it work for, to the boss’s observation that all the dorks move in basic sets of five, to the guy arguing that no one should go to college at a TED talk, this is a vision whose every detail has been considered and executed well. It’s a place that makes fun of itself.
The TED talk guy, Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch, Rubicon), is Richard’s first investor, allowing Richard to keep ownership while growing the brand. He has a pretty assistant, Monica (Amanda Crew, Whistler), whom, of course, Richard is smitten with, providing the romantic pairing of the show. And there’s Richard’s boss, Galvin Belson (Matt Ross, Big Love), and his assistant, Jared (Zach Woods), who represent the corporate types, looking to buy out Richard and reap the rewards of his work. So the outside influences are firmly established, too.
HBO’s half hour series tend not to last long and have very niche viewership. Yet, I can’t help but think that SILICON VALLEY, perhaps because of the age in which it airs, provides enough connections to the world to bring in the viewers. Considering it follows Game of Thrones, which will have the nerds already on the right channel, it’s got a plumb viewing spot, too. I have high hopes for this to succeed.
SILICON VALLEY airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.