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Silicon Valley: Season 1 BD
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From the offbeat mind of Mike Judge (Office Space, Beavis and Butt-head), this HBO half-hour comedy takes viewers inside the world of tech start-ups – and the socially awkward underdogs who try to navigate its lucrative potential. Starring a talented ensemble of young comic actors (see below) and veterans, Silicon Valley charts the rising fortunes of Richard, an introverted computer programmer who lives in a “Hacker Hostel” start-up incubator along with his friends Big Head, Gilfoyle, and Dinesh. These social misfits live under the watch of Erlich, a dotcom millionaire who lets them stay in his house for free – as long as he gets a 10% stake in their projects. Stuck working part-time at a large tech company called Hooli, Richard’s obscure website, Pied Piper, is going nowhere fast. But when a mid-level Hooli executive named Jared is apprised of the value of the site’s novel compression algorithm, Richard finds himself caught in the middle of an extreme bidding war between Hooli founder Gavin Belson and independent billionaire venture capitalist Peter Gregory.
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We've been laughing at their exploits – creating amazing tech, lurching into social situations – on CBS’s “Big Bang Theory” for nine seasons. (It’s been that long?) Now HBO stirs the pot with an eight-episode debut about another group, who stumble into the attention of mega-billion power nerds Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) and Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch). Sadly, Welch passed away during filming from lung cancer. A veteran of shows like “The Practice,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Special Victims Unit,” don’t miss his final performance.
Peter and Gavin began as friends, working together until a seismic rift blew them apart. They battle for the algorithm created by Richard Hendricks, who lives with his pack in the Silicon Valley suburbs. Played by Thomas Middleditch and bearing a profound resemblance to a young Hugh Grant, Richard must choose between accepting a multi-million dollar payoff and selling his discovery or accepting financing to develop it himself.
You know he’s going to pick Option B – development – or “Silicon Valley” would be a two-episode series. The first season covers how Richard gets his business underway, with the help of nerd-bean counter Jared (Zach Woods, “The Office”). The show entertains in a cagey, slow-burn way until we hit uncontrollable laughs, where brainy humor gives way to slapstick. Middleditch, Woods and co-stars T.J. Miller, Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani have experience in comedy and improv as exposed in the making-of feature. Miller is also a voice actor on DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon” films and Disney’s “Big Hero 6.”
“Making Silicon Valley” introduces creator/executive producer Mike Judge, who once worked and lived in Silicon Valley, the basis of his inspiration. The leads analyze their characters. Miller’s Erlich sold his company for a few million, buying a house he shares with other nerds for 10% of their earnings. (There’s a tour in “The Hacker Hostel” featurette.) Erlich is no smooth operator; he’s got an ego that hurls him into any and every fray. Starr’s Gilfoyle is a Satanist. “Basically because he likes to party and have fun. Sin is a thing of beauty,” Starr says. (His group is amazingly, hilariously banal.) Gilfoyle’s rival Dinesh (Nanjiani) slips into best friend category. Think of these two as the dark side of “Big Bang’s” Wolowitz and Koothrappali. Amanda Crew plays Monica, Peter’s assistant and handler, representing the 2% of women in the tech world, Judge says.
In real life, they’re all “really similar” to the characters they play, Middleditch says.
“TechCrunch: Disrupt” shows how the series was able to use the real mega-conference where startup companies showcase their ideas, hoping for funding. An episode gives us “HumanHeater,” where microwave technology is used to keep people warm. “Self Surgeon” is just what it sounds like. Both are dangerous; both may be genuine.
Each episode has a commentary featuring Judge and producer Alec Berg (both write for and direct “Silicon Valley”). They’re sometimes joined by the cast. Production info blends with anecdotes. All note how real geeks quickly point out possible inaccuracies and solutions through Twitter. It is both curse and blessing.
This is an HBO production, so you can bet your gigabytes the 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 picture and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack are excellent.
“Silicon Valley” keeps us laughing at the nerds, but there’s no doubt who’s in charge or where the money goes. (Last laugh, right? The one that counts.) — Kay Reynolds
But it's not quite as easy as the success stories make it seem. "Silicon Valley: Season 1" explores the steps between "A: Come up with cool idea" and "Z: PROFIT!!!!!!!!," following a gang of oddball computer nerds who may have the Next Big Thing... but have to deal with eccentric billionaires, rivals, obscene murals and Adderall-addled children along the way. Despite the looming threat of failure, this weird, foul-mouthed little comedy careens wildly through the planning stages of a world-changing new project.
By day, mild-mannered Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) is a low-ranking code monkey at the megalithic company Hooli. But when he shows someone else his pet project, a music app called Pied Piper, Hooli discovers an algorithm that allows perfect searchable file compression. Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) offers him a flat $10 million for the algorithm... but Richard shocks him by instead taking an offer from the eccentric billionaire Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), which may allow him to form his own company.
So Richard hires the wacky guys in the start-up "incubator" to help him turn Pied Piper into a viable product, including egotistical Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller), stoner Satanist Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), put-upon Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), and Belson's earnest ex-PA Jared (Zach Woods). His buddy Big Head (Josh Brener) ends up working for Hooli... or rather, NOT working.
But it's a lot more complicated and difficult than he expected -- not only do they have to iron out all the problems in the program, but they have to get the rights to the Pied Piper name, form a real business plan, and create a logo. What they actually get is an obscene mural, an Adderall-addled tween who wrecks the project, drunken appointments and money troubles. Worse: they have to get Pied Piper in working order by the time of TechCrunch Startup Battlefield. Even worse: Belson has been reverse-engineering the Pied Piper algorithm to create a sleeker, more profitable version of the same program.
At times, "Silicon Valley: Season 1" can be kind of heavy of the tech-jargon. I don't really know what makes computers work internally, and I don't really understand software design. So whenever the characters lapsed into technobabble, I lapsed into a stupor. That is the main problem with this entire season, which is otherwise gutsplittingly funny -- lots of raunchy humor (the mural on the garage door), social disasters and weird problems (Richard has to bribe neighborhood kids for Adderall).
Mike Judge has to be given credit: there is a genuine sense of suspense that hangs over this story. Richard is constantly reminded that not only are they the David to Hooli's Goliath, but that most start-up ideas are either not viable (a parking lot app that reminds you where you parked), or will end in failure because of business reasons. And in the final few episodes, it seems like Hooli is about to crush the less polished, less moneyed Pied Piper.
And yet somehow it's still incredibly funny. Every episode is packed with raunchy, F-bomb-riddled dialogue (the mathematical discussion about the fastest way to masturbate the audience), weird subplots (Ehrlich goes on a psychedelic spirit quest in a gas station bathroom) and plenty of glorious misunderstandings (Gilfoyle's suggestion that Dinesh sleep with his girlfriend). And the clever satire of major Internet companies and the billionaires who run them is absolutely hysterical ("If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller. And hunger. And... AIDS").
Middleditch is the least charismatic actor in this, but it may be intentional -- Richard is brilliant but also kind of nondescript, weak and easily swayed, and it's only in the final episodes that he finally grows a spine and learns to shine. Miller is glorious as a manipulative jerk who does have an actual soft spot for the guys in his incubator, and is willing to get beaten up for the sake of Pied Piper. Starr, Nanjiani and Woods are all fun, colorful spots in the cast, each bringing a glorious vibe all their own... and the only dull spot is Amanda Crew as the token Smurfette, who seems to exist mainly as a love interest for Richard.
"Silicon Valley: Season 1" is a natural outgrowth of Judge's classic "Office Space" -- only now the worker drones have a chance to be queen... well, king bees. Gloriously wild, funny and slightly hampered by technobabble.