Judge’s biggest accomplishment here is balance: even as he wags a finger at Silicon Valley’s absurdities, he takes time to salute the tech world as well. First, we see an extravagant, private party with “liquid shrimp” and an irritated Kid Rock (“F*** these people,” he says, as a crowd of wordless, music-averse engineers watch in silence). But the next moment, we’re treated to a thorough explanation of Richard’s technology. It turns out that his music matcher, Pied Piper, is actually a sophisticated compression algorithm that can send giant song, photo, and video files in tiny sizes, while still preserving the media’s original quality. Judge knows the tech is just as important as the jokes, and better yet, he respects the intelligence of his audience.
Still, Judge does give in to his trademark weakness of naughty jokes and frat boy humor about one or two scenes too often. It may be funny—and heck, for the Valley, it’s probably somewhat accurate—but all the juvenile gags end up more distracting than deserved. In one episode, we spend over ten minutes with an ongoing sex plot (did Erlich just sleep with the judge’s wife?) while we spend only 30 glorious seconds on a bitingly clever montage of overused Silicon Valley tech babble (“Our product is social, local, and mobile...we were so-lo-mo, but now, we're mo-lo-so. No, mo-so-lo. No..."). I suppose Judge may be playing the numbers here—after all, more people know sex than mySQL—but we can get bad sex jokes on 75% of TV shows already.*
*In fairness, the last episode of the season blended sex and tech so well that I almost forgave all the juvenile jokes. I won’t spoil it: I’ll just say that the whole evolution of the episode 8 joke is so brilliant that it justifies its own naughtiness in the process. If only I could say the same for earlier episodes.
Silicon Valley’s only other obvious flaw is gender diversity. We get one significant female role (Monica, investor Peter Gregory’s assistant), and a series of one-off women who flirt or sleep with our male stars. “Geeky" may be the new “charming,” but let’s be serious: even high school quarter backs don’t win dates this easily. Worse, Monica (Amanda Crew, flat) is by far the least compelling major performance on the show, with a script that forces her to advance the plot rather than deliver jokes or expose absurdity, a job left exclusively to the men.
On the plus side, the acting chemistry (outside of Amanda Crew) is as solid as Richard’s compression algorithm—the oddball gang of programmers couldn’t have been better cast. Series star Thomas Middleditch (Richard) bumbles, mutters, and moans with satisfying nerdiness, a character both immediately lovable and immediately dopey. TJ Miller plays the obnoxious, self-important Erlich, who lucked into a small fortune after selling his previous company, Aviato (a name Erlich pronounces with a bad, pompous Spanish accent). Erlich drips pretentiousness in the first two episodes, but he somehow wins us over by the end of the first season, making for richer, more intriguing character.
Meanwhile, supporting stars Martin Starr (Gilfoyle) and Kumail Nanjiani (Dinesh) pepper the proceedings with good-natured bickering and puffed up tech speak ("The internet. Ever heard of it? Transfers half a petabyte of data every minute. Do you have any idea of how that happens?”) They’re the old married couple, 20 years younger and 20 times dorkier. Finally, Zach Woods (previously, Gabe on The Office) plays the hyper-competent, hyper-awkward Jared, a transplant from big corporation Hooli hired to help Pied Piper form a business plan. While I worry that Woods is getting stuck in one type of roll (the gangly dweeb), he’s never played the part better than in Silicon Valley.
Like a good start-up, Silicon Valley’s first season is lean, focused, and appropriately snarky. Now it’s time to grow the business. HBO has renewed the series for a second season, which is sure to bring more viewers, more critics, and a bigger budget. Will HBO’s new sitcom become a household name, or will it fail to execute in the face of growing expectations? We’ll find out next year.