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TV That Matters: Silicon Valley

By Christina MurphyColumnist

If you were still lifting your jaw up from the floor following the highly anticipated return of Game of Thrones, you probably noticed the transition from medieval drama to a comedy about the modern start up, Silicon Valley. The series opens up with Kid Rock performing at a sparsely attended Silicon Valley party that is filled predominately with young awkward men in zip up hoodies. Although equipped with the social skills of a middle schooler, these men are all young tech geniuses, each with a million dollar idea sitting on their laptop. The show is designed to give a realistic look at the humans behind the apps, while turning the Silicon Valley into a satirical character in itself.

Creator Mike Judge has set out to shake up the reputation people have about young startup CEOs. Richard, played by Thomas Middleitch, seems to be the antithesis of the insufferable real life Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who was portrayed as being callous and narcissistic by Jessie Eisenberg in the 2012 film, the Social Network. The show throws several digs at former Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Richard is an employee of Hooli, a Google type mega tech corporation that pledges to be a progressive company bent on changing the world for the better, although it appears to be run my a power hungry sociopath. At first the CEO is only seen in a cheesy informational video about Hooli and in the large inspiration posters hanging around the office of him posing with impoverished children in some remote area. He spews nonsense about giving back to the world but appears to treat his own programmers as if they are merely a deck of trading cards. In this deck, Richard appears to be pretty low in the hierarchy of Hooli employees, probably about a three of clubs.

The lanky boy genius, who rarely speaks at full volume or while making direct eye contact, invented a website that helps musicians avoid copyright infringement when composing music. Richard invented a game-changing algorithm for a search engine. When investors get a look at the speed, precisions and efficiency of the search engine, he is left with the decision to either sell his company for millions and leave his creation in the hands of Hooli or take a modest investment and attempt to build his company with the help of a bizarre tech guru and his friends.

During his panicked and vomit-filled decision making process, Richard is under the advisement of Erlich, played by TJ Miller, a generous genius who may have lost some of his sharpness since he sold his company for millions.

“You look at me as if I have it all figured out and for the most part you’re right,” he says obliviously to Richard in between slurps of ramen noodles.

Despite being a young millionaire, he’s usually decked out in outfits that look like “The Dude” has picked them out, which usually includes an open robe, socks with sandals, baggy sweat pants and my personal favorite wardrobe choice from this episode, a t-shirt that says, “I know H.T.M.L: How to Meet Ladies.”

The pilot episode features several familiar faces that are assuming similar roles we are used to seeing them in. Zach Woods, known as the semi-sociopathic Gabe in the Office, has picked up pretty much where he left off as a human database assistant to Hooli CEO. There were also brief appearances made by Martin Starr and Kumail Nanijani. Starr is most known to some for playing the king of the loveable nerds, Bill Haverchuck, on the one season wonder that is Freaks and Geeks. Since then, Starr has mastered the art of playing an anti-social, philosophical know it all. Nanijani, who is best known from his various roles on IFC’s Portlandia, often plays characters that can dish out snark in the most matter of fact way possible. I look forward to more banter between these two characters, who have already ignited a debate over Starr’s religiously ambiguous tattoo.

Although I enjoyed watching Silicon Valley, when the episode finished I was left wondering where all the women are. There was only one woman in the pilot episode with dialogue, Monica, the pedantic assistant to one of Richard’s potential investors. The absence of women in the show is a sad revelation of what a major sausage fest the tech world is. Women hold a mere 27 percent of computer science related jobs and have little representation in executive positions on major tech companies. The industry is making strides towards closing this gender gap and I really hope that this gets a mention in the forthcoming episodes.

Much like the real life Silicon Valley, the show is enticing but flawed. It gives a unique perspective into an industry that is largely made of young college drop outs who can become millionaires over night for an idea that may or may not be the next big thing. The show gives an honest look into the lives of tech geniuses, unlike other shows that rely on their character’s nerdiness as what defines them; these characters seem to possess depth. Throughout the pilot episode there were many attempts to clump programmers all into one generalized archetype. The individual characters proved these stereotypes to be wrong ultimately showing that there is no one algorithm that can define the complexities of a human being.

Silicon Valley is on HBO, Sundays at 10 p.m. Eastern Time. The show is also available on HBOgo and YouTube.

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