Until now, no one adequately embarrassed Silicon Valley on TV. All prior attempts either embarrassed themselves, or fell just short. But Silicon Valley, Mike Judge's HBO foray into the sociopathic pit of Northern California's tech scene is beyond adequate: It gives the fuckers the graceful slap across the face they need.
It's unclear why it's taken this long for Hollywood to skewer its Northern Californian cousins. Just this week, Amazon announced it's passing on Betas, its well-intentioned, online-only comedy series about nerd crisis. Maybe this scene isn't enough to hold attention spans. Judge's Silicon Valley (which premiers on April 6th) takes the same basic shapes—sociopath parvenues, villainous investors, clumsy wantrepreneurs, startup jargon—and builds it into not just a cutting portrait of an industry, but a genuinely funny comedy series. It's not Office Space 2014, but it's still corporate satire in top form.
Other than maybe The Social Network, no film or TV series has really accurately portrayed these new monsters, our mercenary Asperger's overclass. It's not enough to just have a show about "nerds": We've seen plenty of nerds, and freaks, and geeks. But we've never seen a faithful take on the startup goons.
In the very first episode, a group of young men—all white save one—are thrown into a crisis of judgment. In Silicon Valley, of course, that can only mean one thing: money. Our central-nervous-meek-white-guy-programmer Richard (Thomas Middleditch) is offered $10 million dollars for the whole of his "company" (essentially just himself) by one investor, or a relatively modest six figure sum in exchange for an equity stake. These are both very good options for someone living with a bunch of other computer science slobs—the other protagonist dudes of Silicon Valley—and their slob king benefactor Erlich (T.J. Miller), who runs a quarter-assed startup "incubator" out of his house. Unable to decide on which older white guy's money to take, Richard vomits his way to a doctor, who sends him home only after pitching his own a medical care app.
This total inability for self-care, the sad dance of the tech-industry manchild, is what gives Silicon Valley its momentum, and what prevents it from steering it into caricature. Everyone on the show is just barely human, but still humane. It's so easy to believe the worst about this world because so much of it rings true—would we really be shocked if someone in the real Silicon Valley said "If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller," as does an investor villain in the show? Silicon Valley's characters can't veer into over-the-top territory (a la Betas) because they're too impotent to even be pricks to each other. When Richard's new investor Peter Gregory—a perfect clone of Paul Graham played by Christopher Evan Welch—tells him he needs to trim the fat at the company, he's forced to question whether he's heartless enough to cut out his best friend. The entire company is suffering from an "asshole vacuum," Erlich scolds.
Hours of these people struggling with their lukewarm dreams ("I just wanted to work with computers and get paid for it") and middling greed could've been grating, but Silicon Valley is never as obnoxious as the geography it's panning. Judge adds in enough quick gags (a stripper with a Square reader, a brainstorming session for silly startup names) to break up the fact that we're dealing with almost uniformly unlikable characters—like Entourage, you might find yourself hooked by how turned off you are by this strange place. You'll find yourself caring what happens to this house of dicks—women are mostly sidelined, true to life—just enough to keep watching. But when the the wilting programmers betray, suffer, and treat each other poorly in the pursuit of change-the-world ambition, you'll relish that too. Just like the wider industry, Silicon Valley is a terrific mix of the goofy and the depressing, the people with genius IQs who still struggle to function. You'll cackle a lot and be glad you aren't there.