Entertainment TV Silicon Valley: the smartest show on television
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Silicon Valley: the smartest show on television

HBO
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The geek shall inherit the Earth.

At this very moment, there are projects going ahead within the tech industry to put men on Mars, cure cancer, record our imagination and create invisibility cloaks. The planet is evolving at the whim of the brilliant.

Popular culture engages in an overwhelming misrepresentation of people of the technological persuasion.

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Actors Kumail Nanjiani (left) and Thomas Middleditch. Photo: HBO
Actors Kumail Nanjiani (left) and Thomas Middleditch. Photo: HBO

The portrayals of geeks and nerds in shows like The Big Bang Theory or movies like Revenge Of The Nerds are affectionate but condescending. There’s a discernable division between the audience and the characters in question.

Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley, currently available on Apple TV, Quickflix, HBO On Demand and Foxtel, finds humour in its central characters, not at their expense. They are normal people. The cast may be inspired by stereotypes, but they are characters not caricatures.

Curiously enough, one show that Silicon Valley shares a lot in common with is Doug Ellin’s Entourage. Both revolve around a fraternal culture within an industry saturated by wealth. But there’s glamour to Hollywood that Silicon Valley lacks.

There are other crucial differences between the shows. The characters in Silicon Valley are worthy of their success, while Vince in Entourage was a terrible actor.

TJ Miller plays Erlich, who runs the tech incubator where the action takes place. Photo: HBO
TJ Miller plays Erlich, who runs the tech incubator where the action takes place. Photo: HBO

Silicon Valley is gently critical of the culture in Silicon Valley while Entourage at best mimicked some of Hollywood’s peculiarities without comment and at worst subscribed to them.

Judge and producer Alec Berg are no strangers to the world of Silicon Valley – Judge worked there, as a programmer in the 1980s, while Berg’s father and brother are computer scientists. Both Judge and Berg are now two of America’s leading satirists.

But working on Silicon Valley brings a new challenge – the tech world is already so absurd, with its combination of rapid evolution, huge economic worth and altruism (as Berg says, “Any time you say you’re making the world a better place and you’re also putting $35 million in your own pocket, there’s a conflict …”), that it almost defies satire. There are people in San Francisco who ride private buses stocked with their own juice bar.

In the current, and third, season of Silicon Valley, protagonist Richard Hendricks is courted by a tech startup called Flutterbeam. They want him to help develop a 3D-Holographic facial hair app that attaches to your face during live video chats. It may seem absurd, but Snapchat is probably working on something like it right now.

Silicon Valley revels in absurd humour, but is grounded in reality. It’s not making fun of the real Silicon Valley but rather highlighting how ridiculous an industry that is concurrently trying to cure cancer whilst offering consumers fake 3D moustaches could appear to an outsider.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a big fan. Photo: Getty
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a big fan. Photo: Getty

Silicon Valley is Mark Zuckerberg’s favourite show. Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry page did the 2015 ice bucket challenge wearing Silicon Valley t-shirts. But the show isn’t just for Palo Alto insiders.

“I make a weird comparison, but in my mind, it makes sense—which is the ‘gangsta rap’ thing,” says Judge. “Dr. Dre used to always say it has to appeal to people in the neighbourhood on the streets, and then go from there.”

Those are the characters – Richard, Erlich, Dinesh, Jared and Gilfoyle – the population of Silicon Valley that aren’t send-ups or distortions of techies. These are the guys (females are notoriously underrepresented in Silicon Valley) putting the talent and sweat into the conveniences we often take for granted. And they’re normal people, just like us.

It’s no stretch to suggest that the industries of Silicon Valley construct the single most significant contemporary commercial movement. Silicon Valley might just be the most comprehensive and accessible insight into the industry that’s literally changing the world.

It’s a culture previously expressed by exaggeration and caricature, but an industry that’s putting men on Mars and connecting everyone on the planet needs decent representation. It also needs to be made fun of occasionally.

Watch the trailer for Silicon Valley (warning: offensive language).

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