Freak La Critique: Silicon Valley Season One

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Black Friday came and went. Often associated with large crowds, holiday shopping en mass, and generally regarded as something of a spectacle; for Blu Ray collectors it has become something of its own holiday. Along with the various deals to be had on TV's, toys, and home appliances, one of the staples of these sales has become cheap movies; with DVD's and Blu Rays starting at $2.00 and up it's a veritable buffet of movies. I love this day, I look forward to it, and as a matter of fact I save up for it every year. This is a great time to pick up some titles you may have been a bit iffy on, and a good opportunity for some blind buys; the prices are low enough that you can gamble a bit on titles if you're not quite sure about them. One my my blind buys this year was Silicon Valley, I had heard a little bit about this show, but didn't really know much about it. Given the price that it was on sale for though, I couldn't help but grab it up.

Genera: Comedy
Network: HBO
Rating: TVMA
Runtime: 30 Min. (Average)
Episode Count: 8
Cast: Thomas Middleditch: Richard Hendricks
T.J. Miller: Erlich Bachman
Josh Brener: Nelson "Big Head" Bighetti
Martin Starr: Bertram Gilfoyle
Kumail Nanjiani: Dinesh Chugtai
Christopher Evan Welch: Peter Gregory
Amanda Crew: Monica
Zach Woods: Donald "Jared" Dunn
Matt Ross: Gavin Belson
Suzanne Cryer: Laurie Bream
Jimmy O. Yang: Jian Yang

The series follows Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) as he learns to navigate the waters of Silicon Valley, when it's discovered that his seemingly uninteresting siliconvalleystart up (a website called Pied Piper) contains a compression algorithm that could revolutionize the way media is shared and distributed on the Internet. The fun starts when both Venture Capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), and Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) figure out the gem hidden inside of Pied Piper, and get into a bidding war for the technology. Hooli is the show's generic "Big Tech" company, akin to Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, known for acquiring small companies to exploit whatever technology they posses on a grand scale. While VC Peter Gregory is offering a considerably smaller amount of money, but willing to let Richard nurture his project in a way that allows him to let it become what he envisions it to be.

Walking into this show completely blind I was unsure what to expect. From what I had gathered beforehand, it seemed like HBO's version of The Big Bang Theory. While I'm probably one of the few geeks I know that actually likes Big Bang, I do feel that it's depiction of Geek Culture is often over the top, and slightly derogatory. With this in mind I was a bit leery about taking on another show that would just perpetuate negative stereotypes about those of us who are less than well adjusted, but even with that bias in mind I was still pleasantly surprised. Produced by Mike Judge, there are definite similarities in the style of humor to be drawn between Silicon Valley and Office Space. There is a lot of "nerd humor", and it is often delivered in the subtle (non-over-the-top) way that was the staple of Office Space.

Thomas Middleditch's portrayal of Richard Hendricks as a nervous programmer, who struggles with the social, and leadership, skills required of the Founder, and Head, of a company comes of as genuine in spite of the comical way he deals with it tmat times. You find yourself rooting (no pun intended) for him as he tries to muster the ability to take control of situations, often making you believe that he may fail before finally rising to the occasion at the last moment; this is evident in a few scenes, and does a lot to define the character as someone who wants to do what's right, not just what's expected of him.

Aside from Richard, the other performance that really stands out to me is Christopher Evan Welch as Peter Gregory. Welch's portrayal of a Venture Capitalist who is obviously on the Autism Spectrum is something that could have been over the top, but he was able to capture the quirkiness of being on "The spectrum" without over doing it. This is a role could have easily mocked the personality traits that come with being slightly Autistic, but he was able to use enough restraint to make it believable, and not derogatory. I was genuinely sad to learn that he had passed away, because the character was one of the highlights of the show for me, and I was looking forward to seeing more of him in Season Two.

Erlich (T.J. Miller) is a character that I struggled with at first, but really hits his stride as he falls into his role as the "Steve Jobs" to Richard's "Wozniak"; the pair play off of each others strengths and weaknesses rather well. In the beginning his tjmbrash and abrasive personality is a bit off-putting, but as he starts to find his place in the company his outgoing personality really becomes an asset, and counters Richard's social inadequacies perfectly. His ability to do what needs to be done is definitely his most redeeming characteristic, and is highlighted by his bitch-slapping a small child in the middle of the street over a couple of Adderall pills; rising to the occasion yet again, and saving the day.

Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh's (Kumail Nanjiani) constant ribbing, and competitiveness, make them great comic relief for the show, and helps lighten the gildinmood when things get to be a bit serious. Gilfoyle's involvement with the Satanic Church is a bit over the top at times, but serves to counter his rather dry personality to some degree. While their relationship is comparable that of Howard and Rajesh on The Big Bang Theory, they seem to have settled into a social dynamic more akin to a "bromance" rather than the "arisens homosexual marriage" of Wolowitz and Koothrappali.

One of the reasons that I buy a lot of Blu Rays is that I really enjoy commentarymj tracks, and they aren't generally available through streaming and downloadable content. Most HBO releases will have at least two or three commentaries in a full season, but this show went above and beyond by including a commentary track with Mike Judge, and cast, for every episode. The cast seems to have an amazing rapport, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing them deconstruct scenes, discuss what was improved, and what was experiences were incorporated from the actor's real lives.

Overall I really enjoyed this show, so much so that I let out an audible squeal during the climax of the final episode. Although there are some comparisons to be made with The Big Bang Theory, both being nerd-centric comedy shows, I think that Silicon Valley does a better job of embracing geek culture, rather than making fun of it. You should probably be more inclined to think Office Space meets Entourage for a more accurate description.


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