Mike Judge is a man of many talents, but he's always had a feel for the dry, dry satire, expertly picking out nuanced details that straddle the line between realistic and absurd. Silicon Valley is perhaps his driest work yet, and in its best moments feels like the first truly on-point satire of the tech world. It also has an episode with a cliffhanger that our main character forgot to file the paperwork to create an LLC. This is a television show about creating a business, and it's about as low to the ground as it can be, story-wise.
Judge and co-creators John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky (both longtime King of the Hill writers) set their action around a programmer, Thomas (Thomas Middleditch), who almost accidentally comes up with a piece of code with limitless commercial implications if used in the right way. Instead of selling it for easy money to the eager CEO of his Google-like employer (Matt Ross), he's taken under the wing of angel investor Peter Gregory (the sadly late and very great Christopher Evan Welch) and gathers together a loose collective of similarly disgruntled tech friends to try and strike out on his own.
Judge has filled out his cast rather perfectly. Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani are ideal as a snippy pair of coders who can drop in for a one-liner at any time (Starr taps into his "angry nerd" energy from Party Down, Nanjiani has just been waiting for a project to use his many talents properly). Zach Woods will probably always play irritatingly soft-voiced middle managers, but he's a great counterbalance to TJ Miller's bro-y vision guy Erlich. All of these guys are doing shtick they've done before, but they're working with better, more nuanced material and they're not just being deployed as one-joke characters.
Middleditch has a far tougher job on his hands. His character is infuriatingly milquetoast and spends almost every minute on the show wringing his hands about some kind of tough decision. We get it, if you want to be a tech CEO you have to make a lot of cold-blooded calls, but Silicon Valley keeps swerving back to that less and less interesting territory. It'd be more acceptable if the action wasn't so slow-moving and deliberate—as I referenced earlier, it was hard not to laugh at the hard cut to closing credits after Thomas is told to fill out some forms by a bank teller.
What Silicon Valley is obviously getting right is atmosphere, and so while the molasses-slow plotting may turn some viewers off, others are going to recognize just how on-point Judge is about the infuriating world Thomas is trying to navigate. Ross' revered CEO is consistently struggling with churning internal crises (essentially, the loss of his soul) and surrounds himself with gentle guru types even as he ruthlessly negotiates tech contracts. Welch is fantastic as the off-the-grid genius type, whose annoyingly useful autism everyone just has to walk on eggshells around. One of the best running gags of an episode is his sudden fascination with Burger King's products, which he treats like some stunning new innovation.
Judge presents the tech world as one just as charged with testosterone, but featuring players who often don't know where or how to direct their energies, and their grievances built up from years of marginalization. Suddenly, a skill that got you mocked in high school and shoved into a cubicle after college can make you rich beyond your wildest dreams—it's like handing a loaded semi-auto to a six-year old. Money will be wasted and dumb Entourage antics might ensue, but on a lower scale and with more apologizing.
After watching the first five episodes, my biggest hit against Silicon Valley is its frustratingly slow speed. Judge is keeping things real—a little too real—and I'd end a half-hour feeling like I had to fill out forms, draw up a business plan, and network with some tech folks. It's sweaty, sometimes brilliant, usually funny (in that gentle, not laugh-out-loud, Mike Judge sort of way) but often stressful experience. Even though everyone's wearing shorts and sipping iced lattes. Which is probably what life is really like over in Palo Alto, which is the biggest compliment I can play Silicon Valley.