‘Silicon Valley’ is a gentle but hilarious spoof of the tech industry

Despite achieving critical and awards success with smaller-niche comedies like “Girls” and “Looking” and getting insanely great ratings for dramas like “Game of Thrones” and “True Detective,” HBO is still missing its big comedy hit to follow up “Entourage.” It may have finally found it by enlisting comedy veteran Mike Judge (“Office Space”) to spoof one of the most well-known, yet still foreign to most of America, industries: the tech world of Silicon Valley.

“Silicon Valley” focuses on Richard (Thomas Middleditch), who appears poised to finally break out of his boring job at Hooli, a tech-giant company that appears to be based on Facebook or Google. Middleditch plays Richard like an awkward, gangly Seth Meyers with little to no confidence, and the results are incredibly endearing. Richard lives in a house run as an incubator for young programmers by Erlich, played by a hysterically goateed T.J. Miller. Other recognizable faces pop up in supporting roles, like Kumail Nanjiani of “Portlandia” as one of his roommates and Zach Woods, who has appeared in brilliant comedies like “The Office” and “In the Loop,” as a fellow Hooli employee.

But the funniest characters are the two competing tech titans: Peter Gregory, a seemingly benevolent investor who loathes college, and Gavin Belson, the CEO of Hooli. Sadly, Christopher Evan Welch, who played Gregory, passed away in December from lung cancer. His scenes were already my favorites in the pilot, so I’m very interested to see where the show goes from here with his plot.

The show is incredibly confident in its comedy, balancing absurd and hilarious set-piece scenes, like a bidding war for Richard’s app between Belson and Gregory, with running gags that feel like they’re from a show that has been on the air for six seasons, like how Erlich pronounces the name of his old company, Aviato. There’s also a particularly great throwaway Radiohead joke that made me laugh much harder than I expected to.

As someone who finds tech worship and the culture of Silicon Valley to be a little bit silly, the skewering worked perfectly. At last, a television series that points out the insanity of declarations like “college is bad for everyone no matter what” and how self-important these companies and their employees see themselves. The jokes never turn outright nasty or dark, which I think is why the show will appeal to a much broader audience than “Girls” or “Looking.” Even those who work in Silicon Valley should be able to appreciate the strong comedic work done here without taking it personally.

Mike Judge has created a world that feels lived-in and the cast already has tangible chemistry, but it is nowhere near perfect. For one, the lack of women in the cast is jarring (there is only one female series regular). Obviously the show needs to represent Silicon Valley, and there are very few women entrepreneurs and programmers, but I’d be more impressed if this fictional show took liberty with the facts and made one of the programmers in the incubators a woman. I still don’t understand the difference between Richard and his roommate, Big Head, for one, so cut Big Head and his weird nickname and replace him with a woman. It would help balance the show’s ensemble and avoid cliched jokes about how nerds cannot talk to women. Judge has proven he is a master comedy writer earlier with “Office Space,” and “Silicon Valley” looks to be on the same level of quality; whether “Silicon Valley” will be as successful as “Office Space” remains to be seen.

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