When it was originally on: 2014-2019
Original network: HBO
Where you can stream it now: HBO, or Hulu/Amazon if you pay for the HBO add-on
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: Follows the struggle of Richard Hendricks, a Silicon Valley engineer trying to build his own company called Pied Piper.
Why I picked it: The difference between HBO comedies and network comedies will never cease to fascinate me. Silicon Valley is one of the more popular ones of recent memory, and I’ve heard good things.
It’s also not a coincidence that I chose to do this one the day after I did Halt and Catch Fire. If you read that review you know that I thought its technical aspects were a bit of a hindrance, so I was curious to see how a more comedic computer show handled that challenge.
What I liked: The world of Silicon Valley is instantly immersive. I’ve never actually been to Silicon Valley or any other part of Northern California, but I imagine this is a heightened, satirical version rather than a realistic version, which I absolutely LOVE. There’s the H.T.M.L. (How to Meet Ladies) t-shirt. There’s the fact that Hooli is full of buzzy slogans and bright colors but we don’t know a single product or service they sell. There’s just so many small, smart choices that make this world come alive. I feel like I could probably watch this episode 2-3 times and find new things to like about it. I might just do that because of my only-the-pilot* rule.
They also do a great job of making their protagonist likable and relatable. All too often, nerdy computer people are made into antisocial weirdos, misogynists, or creeps (cough cough Big Bang Theory cough cough). Richard isn’t any of that. He’s just a dude with a dream no one believes in. Who can’t relate to that? He’s nice to everyone and has no obvious lack of social skills. Furthermore, many of the unlikable characters we do get are not “nerds” in the traditional sense, they’re “brogrammers,” reminiscent of the school bullies of other shows despite still being computer programmers.
I also love that the pilot requires our Richard to make a major choice: sell his idea for 10 million dollars or accept a $200,000 investment to grow his company. We learn about characters through their choices, and even though Richard might seem like a relatively plain dude otherwise, the choice to reject the money and build his own company is enough to make him interesting. It also sets up a relationship with his new investor, Peter Gregory, another caricature of a Silicon Valley type who gives students money to drop out of college and pursue their ideas. (And yes, his hatred of college is yet vein of comedy that was right up my alley).
I also love how this one avoided doing the “don’t forget we’re on HBO!” thing that gets annoying. I’m not opposed to excessive swearing, nudity, or violence. I mean, I do pay for the HBO subscription after all. However, I still want these moments to make narrative sense, and one issue that many HBO shows have is that they rely too heavily on “mature content” to set them apart rather than higher quality. I can’t speak for the whole series, but the pilot was actually pretty tame, and maybe could’ve passed for TV-14. Bragging about its HBO-ness ALWAYS took a back seat to establishing the world, characters, and story, which was fantastic.
What I didn’t like: Richard’s friends are still relatively flat characters, with no defining characteristics beyond being Richard’s friends who also work in tech. I think one of them is working on an app that detects hard nipples which is kind of weird? Presumably, these are going to be the people that help Richard build his new company for years to come. I don’t really get any sense for how their personalities might clash or what kind of working dynamic everyone will have tomorrow.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I can’t wait to watch Ep. 2.
*For 100 Pilots in 100 Days, I don’t allow myself to watch any episodes of these shows beyond the pilot during the 100 days. It keeps me from getting too overwhelmed by all the content, and forces me to assess these pilots as PILOTS and not the series as a whole.