SILICON VALLEY – SXSW 2014 Review
Over the past few years SXSW has featured television shows as special screenings. These events have been separate from the movie entries, stand alone events. Last year A&E presented Bate Motel, the year before HBO screened Girls. This year SXSW has created a category for television. Fox, AMC, Showtime and Hulu are all participants this year. HBO has returned to SXSW with it’s latest venture Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge (Office Space, Beavis & Butthead) and produced by Alec Berg (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm).
Silicon Valley follows Richard, (Thomas Middleditch, The Wolf of Wall Street) a mid-level programmer lost in the sea of programmers inhabiting the famed NoCal area. He lives with his friends Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani, Portlandia, Adventure Time) Gilfoyle (Martin Starr, Party Down, This is the End) and Big Head (Josh Brener, The Internship, Maron) at an incubator/bachelor pad owned by venture capitalist Erlich (T.J. MIller, How to Train Your Dragon, Cloverfield). Outside of his day job at a mega tech giant Richard has been working on his own program that will enable users to search music files world wide. To his surprise the program contains an algorithm capable of compressing data to a minimal size, streamlining file transfers.
Unaware of the endless uses of his algorithm Richard shares his program with opposing private sector tech giants. Zach Woods (The Office U.S.) plays Jared and Amanda Crew (Charlie St. Cloud) plays Monica, both executive assistants for the rival tech entities. Both sides discover the monetary potential at the core of the program and enter into a bidding war. Richard’s boss, Gavin Belson (Matt Ross, Revolution), wants to outright buy the program while Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch, Lincoln, Vicky Christina Barcelona) wants to invest in Richard himself and his company (which he does not have). The decision Richard makes sets the story line for Silicon Valley. Enemies are made, alliances are drawn.
HBO shared the first two episodes with SXSW attendees with a cast panel Q&A follow-up. Both episodes where great. Judge and Berg selected the perfect group of actors for Silicon Valley. Within the first few minutes of episode one the chemistry between the actors is on full display. The writing is tight and consists of the perfect mix of pop culture references, tech lingo and interpersonal communication. Richard is presented with a life altering scenario. No matter which offer he takes he realizes his life will never be the same. While he and his friends dream of tech sector riches and fame none seem emotionally or socially ready for it. That’s what is great about Silicon Valley. Front and center within an amazingly scripted comedy is a character study of flawed humans thrust into a major, life altering event.
Fans of both Judge and Berg will not be disappointed. Both have influenced the show with their unique comedic approach. Everything in the show works. With such a large cast the director and writers did a wonderful job of balancing screen time and dialogue for all. I never felt like any individual was focused on too much or too little. I especially enjoyed Thomas Middleditch’s performance. His take on Richard is played with a quiet force that commands attention despite all the other strong actors surrounding him. Silicon Valley is like the evolution of Office Space, presented in a cable television episodic format. With the traction HBO has established with episode one and two of Silicon Valley they are guaranteed to have viewers hooked. I for one am ready for the season to start. Silicon Valley premieres on Sunday, April 6th. On HBO of course.