Review: ‘Silicon Valley’ on HBO

We may not have flying cars or be taking our meals in pill form, but the world has changed pretty dramatically since I was a kid. For instance, the biggest industry in the world, and by far the best field for young people to go into, didn’t even exist 40 years ago, and wasn’t on the radar of most people 20 years ago. But computers and software have so completely taken over American life, and so distorted conventional ideas of capitalism, that it was only a matter of time until someone turned the whole crazy mess into a top-notch comedy.

It’s a target tailor-made for Mike Judge, who could easily have rested on his laurels after creating four separate legitimate cult classics: on television, the animated Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill, and the live-action films Office Space and Idiocracy. Amazingly, Silicon Valley, Judge’s new series for HBO, might just be the best one of them all.

Set (obviously) in the titular Northern California hotbed of technology, IPO’s, and venture capital run wild, Silicon Valley follows the travails of Richard Hendrix, a young programmer whose algorithm for compressing data vaults him into the terrifying position of running his own multimillion-dollar tech company and into direct competition with Hooli, the Googlesque technology behemoth where he used to work. Thomas Middleditch gives a note-perfect lead performance as the twitchy, uncertain Hendrix, whose brilliance and ambition is in constant conflict with his crushing timidity and fear of confrontation. But this is really an ensemble piece, and the supporting cast is brilliant; T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Zach Woods, and Kumail Nanjiani all find very amusing variations on characters that would once have all been the same – namely tech-savvy computer programmers.

Season 1 of the show was about the creation of the algorithm (which Richard originally created in his spare time as part of another, larger program that went nowhere), his realization that he had a potential billion-dollar idea on his hands, and the decision whether to sell out or to start his own company. As season 2 begins, the company is formed, the product has won TechCrunch Disrupt, and Richard is the new darling of the San Jose venture capital world.

As funny as season 1 was – and it was very funny – the show seems to be hitting a groove in season 2, with more confident rhythms and more consistent joke delivery, even as it adds more characters and deepens the existing ones. The loss of Christopher Evan Welch, who played eccentric venture capitalist Peter Gregory in season 1 but died during halfway through production, is a big one, but the show has pivoted nimbly by adding Suzanne Cryer as a similarly (but subtly different) antisocial venture capitalist who takes over, as well as elevating the role of Amanda Crew as Peter Gregory’s former assistant, who the show wisely gives the most insight about Richard’s predicament, more even than her former boss – and injecting some much-needed female energy into the show.

This is a fascinating sandbox to play in, and the possibilities for comedy in a world where everything is already grotesquely heightened – the first episode of season 2 opens at AT&T Park, which a venture capital firm has rented out to try and woo Richard away from Peter Gregory – are just about endless.

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