Valley of the Trolls: A Look at HBO’s New Comedy

By: Kaitlin Traynor

Series pilots are tricky beasts. Weighed down by introduction, it’s not uncommon for a show’s first episode to be a clunky, awkward affair. Appropriately enough, HBO’s Silicon Valley, co-created by Mike Judge, is a show that covers gawky social graces and its debut episode on Sunday night was way smoother than the nerd-bro characters it depicts.

Avoiding any resemblance to The Big Bang clowns (thank gawd), its predominantly male cast is a gang of tech-minded dudes housing together in a startup incubator. They work tedious day jobs at a Google-esque corporate compound and write code during off hours. T.J. Miller plays Erlich Bachmann, the brash owner of an incubator house in which lowly techies reside rent-free in exchange for a ten percent share in any startup that’s conceived under his roof.

The protagonist is Richard, a timid coder played by Thomas Middleditch. His pet project is Pied Piper, a website that he originally pitched to Erlich as “the Google of music”, although he abandons that pithy description in favour of over-explaining the concept to anyone who will listen. It’s a service nobody’s interested in, but wrapped inside it is a compression algorithm that suddenly makes Pied Piper a valuable commodity. Panic-stricken and pukey, he faces two options – a $10 million dollar buyout from his employer or financial backing and collaboration with a rival CEO. The conflict is this: create or conform?

The rival CEO is Peter Gregory, who is deftly played by the late Christopher Evan Welch. The most awkward of them all, his monotone voice and lumbering conversation don’t make the character any less compelling. That character’s bizarre nature is contrasted against the much-hyped Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), leader of Hooli and face of the company’s propaganda.

Corporate mantras and technobabble abound and there are times when it becomes hard to tell exactly who’s being ironic and who’s being sincere. The satire is sharp. I lost count of the various claims to be “making the world a better place”, but it’d be hard to deny that statement when it comes to developing an app which tracks women’s erect nipples. The background of workplace scenes are littered with poster slogans that initially sound idealistic, but upon further consideration are found wanting of any real meaning. The characters themselves can’t escape these phrases, even in their everyday conversation. I’d be curious to know the accuracy of the more tech-heavy talk from someone who’d understand its meaning, but the story and dialogue weren’t hurt by the loss in translation.

Making the world a better place, one erect nipple at a time.

Making the world a better place, one erect nipple at a time.

The episode ends with plenty of further potential for character development. The dynamics within the incubator house were just as interesting as anything happening at the company and I’ll be happy to see more from Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr. (I have to wonder if my affection for Bill Haverchuck will forever be transferred on to any character Starr plays.) Although it feels like we should be seeing some lady programmers in the mix, it’s fair to assume this may just be an accurate reflection of an existing gender imbalance.

Most importantly, the episode offered some solid laughs. There are a couple amusing sight gags which include an absurdly narrow car driven by an eccentric billionaire and a corporate bike fleet roving in the distance. Demonstrations of the internal pecking order freshened up some old nerd jokes, although the ins and outs of this hierarchy might need to be explored further.

All that being said, I’m intrigued.

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