'Silicon Valley' is set in the high-tech gold rush of modern Silicon Valley, where the people most qualified to succeed are the least capable of handling success. The series charts the rising fortunes of Richard (Thomas Middleditch), an introverted computer programmer who lives in a "Hacker Hostel" start-up incubator along with his friends Big Head (Josh Brener), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani). When a mid-level Hooli executive named Jared (Zach Woods) discovers the value of the novel compression algorithm in a site Richard has created, Richard finds himself caught in the middle of an extreme bidding war between Hooli founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) and independent billionaire venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch).
The last time Mike Judge was involved in a comedy that contemplated the ins and outs of the workplace, it resulted in the 1999 cult comedy 'Office Space.' Now, with HBO's tech-driven comedy 'Silicon Valley,' Judge, along with 'Seinfeld' writer and producer Alec Berg, has returned to the office…sort of. You see, the office Judge & Co. have set their new series in and around is not the typical office building lined with row upon row of cubicle walls, and lit with depressing fluorescent bulbs; it is now the sprawling technological campuses the likes of which Google, Apple, Facebook and (to a lesser degree) Microsoft have popularized, as their companies continue to epitomize the increasingly cash-rich-yet-sometimes-hilariously-detached technology landscape.
Those companies are iconic, and, for some, they have been led by iconic personalities. There is no doubt that everyone knows who the late Steve Jobs is, everyone knows who Mark Zuckerberg is, and most everyone has an idea of what company Bill Gates is still synonymous with. And what 'Silicon Valley' does with great finesse is offer a scathing sendup of the culture in which these men have thrived, and the cult of personality that is constantly looking for the next iconic iconoclast on whose star everyone can hitch their proverbial wagon.
The ensemble brings together some of the funniest comedic actors working right now. 'Silicon Valley' follows the exploits of Richard (Thomas Middleditch), an extremely talented, but socially awkward (naturally) computer whiz, and his group of programming friends, Big Head (Josh Brener), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), who live and work in an incubator for start ups owned and run by Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller).
As it happens, Richard is working on a compression algorithm that he thinks can make searching for music licensing rights easier. What he doesn't know is that his algorithm provides almost lossless compression of very large files, making it a prize to be won by fictional Google proxy Hooli, which is owned by billionaire Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) – who is allegedly based on software tycoon Marc Benioff – and his competitor, Peter Gregory (brilliantly portrayed by the late Christopher Evan Welch) – himself allegedly based on angel investor Peter Thiel. Once Richard lets a few alpha male co-workers take a look at his product, the race is on to claim his idea, named Pied Piper. The ensuing bidding war sparks Richard's entrepreneurial spirit, and he turns down Belson's offer of $10 million, in exchange for a $200K investment to grow Pied Piper into the company it was intended to become.
The only trouble is, Richard has no vision for his company, much less know how to run one. Enter, the very funny Zach Woods ('In the Loop') as Jared (not his real name, but the meek yes-man is fine with that, as long as he gets to help out), who, much to the chagrin of everyone else, helps Richard turn Pied Piper into something that actually resembles a company. Now, if only Richard could figure out what kind of a company he and his friends are trying to build, he'd be set.
It's rare to see a comedy work as well as 'Silicon Valley' does right off the bat. Balancing character development and plot with the push to make each installment of the 8-episode first season as funny as possible is no easy task. But Judge, Berg, and host of other writers chronicle Richard's journey, one vomit-inducing panic attack at a time. That may sound like a bummer, but the series really does know how to get the most of its characters' foibles. Whether it is focusing on Richard's lack of self-confidence, Erlich's overabundance of self-confidence, Big Head's lack of skill or ambition, or the strange rivalry between Dinesh and the devil worshipping Gilfoyle, the series has its characters down pat. Moreover, it knows how to make those characterizations work as something more than just sweeping generalizations of computer geeks or technology archetypes who think that a new piece of software is going to "make the world a better place".
But it is also through that oft-repeated phrase that 'Silicon Valley' finds its heart. The show is skewering a subculture, and it certainly has the smarts to conduct some character assassinations with pinpoint accuracy. Instead of tearing its target down, however, the show chooses to find humor in pointing out the specific aspects of the culture that make people like the egotistical Gavin Belson, or the soft-spoken and seemingly aloof Peter Gregory not only the new model of success, but also the end goal of every young programmer living in the overpriced region of California. The series is interested in what makes its namesake work and why; it's not interested reducing it to a pile of rubble for the sake of a few laughs.
As the series follows Pied Piper from pipe dream to potential game changer, 'Silicon Valley' focuses on the bumps in the road that come from starting up a startup. Episodes like 'The Cap Table' and 'Articles of Incorporation' transform the mind-numbing work of creating a business and figuring out what that business's goals are into comedy gold. Along the way, the camaraderie between Richard and Erlich becomes the focal point of the series, as Erlich is determined to be Steve Jobs to Richard's Steve Wozniak, giving the series far more heart and compassion than a show that makes a Kid Rock joke in its first five minutes would seem interested in having.
If the series had one glaring shortcoming, it would be the same problem plaguing the real Silicon Valley: the lack of significant roles for women. At the moment, only Amanda Crew ('Sex Drive,' 'Charlie St. Cloud') holds the only noteworthy female role – and even then, she acts as Peter Gregory's assistant and a potential love interest for Richard. Other than that, women are predominantly given roles as strippers, actresses hired to strike up conversation with geeky males, and the odd girlfriend whose presence inside Erlich's "incubator" is a major disruption for one particular programmer.
Still, 'Silicon Valley' is a show that manages to deliver incredibly funny episodes time and again, ending with the surefire classic finale 'Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency,' which features what may be the smartest dirty joke of all time. If the series can iron out some of its wrinkles and make good on the promise of its funniest moments, then it will certainly be around for a long time. This is an incredibly funny program that is deserving of a large audience.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Silicon Valley: The Complete First Season' comes from HBO Home Video as a two 50GB Blu-ray disc set + Digital HD copy. The discs are housed in the standard two-disc keepcase, itself housed inside a cardboard sleeve featuring the same artwork. There are a few previews ahead of the top menu on the first disc, but they can be skipped. At the top menu, you can choose to watch all the episodes, select a specific episode, and toggle between the optional commentary tracks on all eight episodes.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer is very good. The image is consistently bright, with vivid colors and a good amount of fine detail. The detail can decrease slightly in wider shots, as facial features and some fine textures don't stand out as much as they do during close-ups, but for the most part, the image is consistent, when it comes to delivering detail with strong, sharp edges.
Color and contrast are terrific, here. There is a wide spectrum on display in almost any shot, and while the colors are very intense, they never overwhelm the screen, or look as if the image is over saturated. Contrast produces rich, full-bodied blacks and a complete gray scale that is never hindered by crush or hints of banding at all. Shadows look great, and complete blackness still maintains a high amount of detail. White balance is also strong, as it produces an image that is well balanced and never runs too hot.
Overall, this is the kind of transfer one would expect from a series that debuted in 2014. It is a great looking image that has only a few slight issues, but is otherwise fantastic.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is good, but it occasionally lacks the kind of punch a series that is this inclined to use popular music should have. Dialogue and sound effects are always crystal clear – which is the important thing – but certain scenes, like the opening credit sequence, or during the end credits, the music can sound just a tad anemic. It's not bad, mind you; it just doesn't seem to deliver the kind of powerful sound one might expect.
Still, the front loaded sound mix does deliver strong dialogue that is balanced against the other elements quite well. Directionality is also put to good use, as characters talking from different sides of the room, or during camera shifts are often reflected in their placement on the channels. That directionality also helps enhance atmospheric noise presented through the rear channels. This helps create an immersive feel to things like party sequences and conventions.
In the end, this is a good mix that could have offered more intensity at times, but in the end still delivers a strong sound.
Each episode of 'Silicon Valley' comes with a commentary that usually features Mike Judge and Alec Berg, and will sometimes feature some variation of the cast. These are very funny and lively commentaries, most of which demonstrate just how well the cast works with one another and their different styles of comedy. Often times, the commentaries rival the episodes in terms of how easily they'll make you laugh.
Making Silicon Valley (HD, 13 min.) – This making of featurette offers a few behind-the-scenes looks at the production of the series, as well as some interviews with the stars and the writers. It's your average kind of feature, but it will be informative and entertaining for fans of the series.
TechCrunch: Disrupt! (HD, 4 min.) – This is a quick look at how the show put a little bit of startup reality into the show, by demonstrating how it was able to put TechCrunch Disrupt into the final episodes.
The Hacker Hostel (HD, 6 min.) – This is a quick tour of Erlich's abode, as hosted by T.J. Miller.
As far as computer-based television comedies go, 'Silicon Valley' is right up there with 'The IT Crowd.' This is an incredibly strong first season that features a host of well-rounded characters who all complement one another in a way that enhances the comedy, while also making the journey of Pied Piper one that the audience will care about. There are a few wrinkles still to be ironed out, but this is still a strong, often hilarious half-hour series that will hopefully be around on HBO for a very long time. With great image, good sound, plenty of commentaries, and a few fun featurettes, this one comes recommended.