Jun 12, 2014

[TV] Silicon Valley: Season 1

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the HBO comedy Silicon Valley. I knew that it would rustle some feathers as people would find things to complain about it like how it represents people in the industry or the lack of female representation in the primary cast. Those are all items that are rather par for the course when it comes to these sorts of shows. Plus I didn't really know most of the primary cast apart from the dorky guy from The Office.

And yes, Silicon Valley still has more than its fair share of these kinds of tropes and stereotypes - you have to except these things to come along in any media depiction of a group. And given this is designed as a comedy, that just increases the probability of somewhat negative stereotypes being used in order to push the comedic slant to things.

But the show wasn't all bad and in time it sort of grew on me - which is an interesting statement since the show's first season only ran for a total of 8 30 minute episodes. And when compared to other US comedy shows of this nature, that's really not a whole bunch of time to tell a story.

Synopsis: Silicon Valley is a US sitcom created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky and aired on HBO. Initial reception to the show has been pretty positive if we look at sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

The centers around the socially-awkward Richard Hendriks (Thomas Middleditch), who accidentally creates a revolutionary data compression algorithm as part of an effort to create a sort of music-focused search engine. When other people figure out what he has created, bids start going on to secure the rights to this technology and push it to market. On the one hand there's Richard's actual employer, Hooli and CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) makes an offer to buy out Richard's company, Pied Piper, for $10 million. In sharp contrast, venture capitalist (and oddball TED speaker) offers a meager investment of $200,000 in exchange for a mere 5% of the company.

This is the first major decision that Richard needs to get through, and the only folks he has to aid him are the other guys working out of the live-in startup business incubator run by Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller). And this is where we meet our primary cast for the show - Nelson "Big Head" Bighetti (Josh Brener), Bertram Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and Dinesh Chugtai (Kumali Nanjiani). The show also adds Donald "Jared" Dunn (Zach Woods) as a sort of business development guy given the rather informal nature of the company. Thus the show follows theirs to turn Pied Piper into an actual company, get their product out to market and survive the back and forth squabbling within the team and between the tech giants Peter Gregory and Gavin Belson.

At 8 episodes, it feels like a pretty short show on the surface. But when you look at most American comedies that run for 20+ episodes, they tend to run with the classic sitcom format of self-contained stories and minimal character development. This time around there was a significant effort to create a more complex and highly linear plot, although character development still wasn't addressed as best as could be expected.

That's definitely an area where the show was weak - it relied on stereotypical intellectual archetypes, such as what has been seen over on shows like The Big Bang Theory. But beyond the lack of true, fully realized characters, the show's overall writing and narrative plotting was definitely what kept most of us engaged with the show during it's run.

The show is a weird mix of intellectual banter and frat boy humor. And for the latter, we definitely have T.J. Miller's contributions to the show to be thankful for. Ironically enough, he's probably one of the most evolved characters in the show given how much we find out about him during the course of the season. And he's not exactly stupid - he just has a very coarse manner about him that the rest of the house generally needs in order to kick things into gear.

Silicon Valley is a nice attempt to take on the complex world of dot com and startup world but I really wish it had grown past the major stereotypes that hold character growth back significantly. It's still funny when you don't put in too much though into things and you happen to be spared the possibility of dying in a volcano. Thus the show gets 4 crazy alternate names for the company apart from Pied Piper out of a possible 5.


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