Into the Valley

Into the valley

There is a show I really enjoy called Leverage. The shows resident computer hacker specialist has a favorite quote, “Age of the Geek, Baby”. Age of the geek is right, and Hollywood wants in on the action. With shows like The Big Bang Theory at the front of the “Geek” movement, everyone is trying to get in on the action. HBO takes a crack at the tech/start-up heavy headquarters of Silicon Valley. Following a young startup trying to make their mark amongst the tech titans of Palo Alto.  Mike Judge takes his previous work of Office Space and shifts it enough to get some real leverage on the anti-corporate but still corporate environment of Silicon Valley.

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So how is HBO’s take at the computer programmer subculture? Being a programmer myself, I think they nailed it. I get much of the references, and I actually like the idea of giving people a glimpse of what my world looks like. The ship ain’t perfect, not even close, but it sails straight and true.

I’m glad HBO choose to pursue this as a comedy. Some might evaluate this as an emerging subculture, and right or wrong I’m thankful it’s still capable of not taking itself too seriously. It’s a culture with a deep emphasis on being cool, hip and funny. No need to mix that up with serious drama implications. So while it does take on some interesting ideas with serious implications like Corporate America vs The Little Guy. It stays refreshing nerdy and level.

The show follows a character named Richard Hendrix portrayed by Thomas Middleditch. Richard works for what is obviously a very satirical take of google, a place called Hooli. Hooli is a big company with a sprawling campus of vivid colors and backdrops. They even take some pot shots at Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his “Dont be evil”. Hooli has it’s own model “We cant reach greatness, until we reach goodness”. Richard’s dream is a build a music website where song writers can check if their songs infringe on any copyrights. It’s generally seen as a bad and very limited idea. His support for this venture is slim to none until it is discovered that the compression algorithm he designed for the site is a gold mine of diverse applications. His compression algorithm scores a 2.89 on the weissman score, the highest possible score. This is a fictitious measurement created for the show to illustrate just how good the algorithm is. Stanford Professor Tsachy Weissman and graduate student Vinith Misra created the weissman score at the shows producers request. I don’t know if the metric will hold in the actual technology community, but it’s still pretty cool non the less. Two competing tech giants, CEO of Hooli Gavin Benson portrayed by Matt Ross and independent venture capitalist Peter Gregory portrayed by the late Christopher Welch. The first is a 10 million dollar acquisition offered by Gavin, but Peter wants to buy a small piece of the pie and let Richard build the company to a billion dollar giant. Richard chooses the latter and the show follows him and his group of friends as they go about this start up process.

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It doesn’t take them long to get the satire going. Richard’s group follows the very stereotypical view of “computer scientist”. They cannot talk to girls, the bromance is high, and even the drug influenced vision question. The gags are very expected and surprisingly grounded. While “The Big Bang Theory” is certainly a hit, sometimes the jokes fly way over the audience head. The jokes and gags in Silicon Valley are even better if you get the reference, but funny at it’s core. It doesn’t get too carried away in it’s name sake. While the references about silicon valley and it’s tech residents are high, it doesn’t make the setting a character of the show. We’re all very much interested in the journey of these characters. It even does a great job of taking the initial stages of being a company and making it funny. I think alot of people imagine, somebody comes up with a cool website or idea and boom it just happens. Alot of the first half of the season deals with the notion that all Richard has is an idea, THATS IT. He has to come up with a business model, business vision, determine the equity of his company amongst his team. He even has to get his company Incorporated so he can cash his very first funding check.

The first draft for the logo is not a hit
The first draft for the logo is not a hit

I mentioned that the ship isn’t perfect. The most glaring omission from the show is a lack of woman. There is certainly an issue with male to female demographic in Silicon Valley. At surface value is the show claiming “Art imitating life”? I don’t think so, I think they choose to perpetuate it for the sake of ramming home the stereotype of programmers are bad with women. The season only amounts to 8 episodes, almost making it a glorified pilot. This isn’t bad, but they introduce alot of characters. And even with HBO giving each episode an hour, that’s not alot of time to visit them all. The only character to really go through any type of arc is Richard. Richard begins the series as very timid and unconfident and finishes up with a alot more sense of himself, the company and his decision making as a whole. The group recognizes him as the most talented, but he wasn’t a leader til the end of the first season. Erlich, his unofficial mentor, jerk friend and hype man goes through some character development, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he is much of the same person. Jared is the closest character not named Richard to go through an arch, but he kind of sinks back into his old ways come the end of the season. This isn’t the writers fault, 8 episodes is not enough time. All other characters of the cast are mostly there to directly move the story from one point to the next, or provide gags until that point arrvies. I’m sure the second season of the show will have more episodes, and we’ll hopefully see this character development.

The only female character
The only female character

Reception of the show from the general TV audience has been positive.  Where the show succeeds the most, is that you don’t have to be knowledgeable or invested in the content of what they are trying to make. It’s presented in a way that you just understand, it’s the next big “thing”.  This freedom allows us to focus on the characters and the gags along the way. You’ll have fun with Richard as he tries to figure out who to give equity too, you’ll laugh as Jared does his best to try and make the company a coherent business. You’ll even see Richard have a eureka moment during the longest and most elaborate dick joke of all time. For the short comings it has, it still proves to be a very fun take on the subculture. If you are a computer programmer or know one, I suggest you give it a try.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69V__a49xtw]

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. saraviaj

    I think the reason people like it is because it’s pretty much exactly what people expect to see. Even most programmers might expect this to be how things “happen”.

    I’m a bit mad that the only Hispanic on the show is a graffiti artist in a gang.

  2. danielrabess

    I’m a bit upset there is basically no black representation lol.

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