With the third season of celebrated filmmaker Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley on the way later this month, there is perhaps no better time than now to get on board with the latest comic creation from the writer-director of such monumental comedic properties as Office Space and Beavis and Butt-Head. Like the formerly mentioned contemporary cult-classic, Judge finds himself once again belittling and mocking, albeit ultimately embracing, the modern tech-savvy business culture of the program’s eponymous Californian locale, while taking the requisite time to indulge in all of the sophomoric excess of the latter animated franchise. Where Extract, his last feature film from 2009, saw Judge reveling in the kind of working-class Middle American malaise familiar to that of his King of the Hill, Silicon Valley possesses a more finely tuned ear for the college educated echelon of loserdom specific to computer science majors striving to write the next big code requisite to the making of the next big smartphone app, yet still bearing all of the feral menace and bite of his under-looked studio satire Idiocracy of 2006.
Silicon Valley is thus consistent with the larger Judge oeuvre, yet it still manages to surprise even the most well versed fan of the seminal television and feature filmmaker’s decided authorial voice thanks to a well-rounded cast of A-list comic actors. Thomas Middleditch is incredibly dopey as Pied Piper CEO Richard Hendricks; T.J. Miller steals the show as Steve Jobs-wannabe Erlich Bachman; Martin Starr subtly subverts any of the show’s outstanding stereotypes as Bertram Gilfoyle; and Kumail Nanjiani plays the out-shined cog as Dinesh Chugtai. Collectively, the entire team that makes up the show’s fictional start-up company in the West Coast region known for technological innovation all have their part to play in what is one of the most comprehensive takes on the current age of the geek, in all of its many forms and guises, in what is the most cringe-worthy situation comedy since HBO’s other tent-pole series Curb Your Enthusiasm abruptly entered a period of indeterminate hiatus in 2011.
But unlike Larry David, Judge always manages to find small sparks of humanity in his straw men characters who for the sake of the genre must act as clowns, which has always proved to be his the saving grace for much of his work on television and in film. Seinfeld was a show infamously about nothing, featuring characters meant to exemplify the very worst traits that humanity has to offer, whereas King of the Hill always managed to find something heartwarming in its buffoonish caricature of backwoods suburban sprawl. Likewise, Erlich Bachman might be the most odious incarnation of self-centered apathy, yet in Miller’s ability to inflect every well-worded insult with an ounce of self-conscious deflection, there is plenty to love about and sympathize with his comic anti-hero.
Some viewers may find Silicon Valley an incredibly tiresome viewing experience, as the show never shies away from depicting its central protagonist as a weedy, ineffective dweeb, who constantly finds himself tripping over his own two feet. Yet Middleditch is also an incredibly familiar character, and in his unrefined nerdiness it’s easy to see yourself in a similar situation acting in a manner not entirely divorced from his lack of social graces. Judge has seemingly outdone himself in his latest offering on HBO, as Silicon Valley at once builds upon all of his outstanding work, and yet manages to do something entirely novel, despite the immediacy pre-established by the series creator’s decided auteur status.
It would be a crying shame if more people didn’t get on board with the show going into its third season, especially considering the dramatic cliffhanger with which newcomers to the show’s supported comedy will be greeted by if they so choose to give the program a try in a few short weeks. After erroneously fumbling a crucial court case in order to retain the rights to his original computer program, and subsequently handing off all of the rights to his company to a former business-partner-cum-industrial-conglomerate, viewers who join in with Middleditch’s often pathetic attempts at masculine urgency should find plenty to laugh at, with, and about. Though the through-line of each episode frequently results in one embarrassing situation after another, the larger thematic tapestry that makes up for the larger dramatic comedy is compelling and satisfying in an intensely humanistic sense, as each flub and wrong turn is one made believable through Middleditch’s social misfires, Miller’s obnoxious bravado, Starr’s discordant self-assuredness, and Nanjiani’s fumbling attempts at cool.
Judge has come a long way since Beavis and Butt-Head, and Silicon Valley might be the very best bit of original comedy writing that he has produced on television over the course of his entire career. While borrowing substantially from his seminal theatrical hit Office Space, Silicon Valley manages to take the work-place comedy to uproariously intimate places whereby the comic series of trial-and-error that inevitably ensues feels fresher than it has since the early seasons of The Office on NBC. Taking several cues from himself along the way, Silicon Valley is one of the most realistic sitcoms Judge has ever made, as it never pulls any punches in its honest examination of contemporary tech workers pitted against a satirical premise that seamlessly blurs the line in-between distinguishing blue-collar and white-collar work.
By the end of the show’s second season, viewers will likely find themselves in a position of self-identification with the various members of the ever growing Pied Piper team. Whether you willingly see yourself in either Richard Hendricks or Erlich Bachman shoes or not, you’ll be hard-pressed to find yourself in a position where neither character resembles some form of workplace archetype that you could find yourself in a position of subscribing to as a means of professional and personal identification. Silicon Valley is one of the most well-rounded comedies that Mike Judge has provided his independent stamp to yet, making it one of the best shows on HBO and a television series that you should be catching up on in full ahead of its third season premiere.