Ah, what bliss. Finally, not just another season for a successful TV series (there are no unsuccessful TV series, since a lack of success precludes another season), but a brand new TV series, “Silicon Valley,” produced and channeled to viewers on HBO in the United States since Sunday, April 6, and available on Yes OH and Yes VOD (from April 9). No spoilers possible.
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As you may have gathered, it takes place in Silicon Valley, in Palo Alto, California, where all the geeks are. But unlike “The Big Bang Theory,” which is about geeks leading Seinfeld-type lives and loves (or not having either), this one is about geeks living the dream of finding the kernel of a very bright high-tech idea, and managing to develop and exploit and market it into something world-changing, in the manner of Facebook, Twitter, Google et al.
Considering the fact that Silicon Valley got its nickname in the 1980s, and that bright, hopeful, antisocial geeks have been streaming there ever since, one wonders why it took the TV folk so long to come up with the bright idea of a series that is not about criminals, lawyers and politicians, but about the people who were bitten by the byte bug.
“Silicon Valley” is the brainchild of Mike Judge, who directed all eight episodes of the first season, which looks to be the first of several, judging by the ratings: It garnered almost two million viewers, following the opening episode of the new season of “Game of Thrones.”
Mike Judge earned a degree in physics, worked as an engineer on the F-18 jet, moved to Silicon Valley in the 1980s (to Parallax, a video-card company) and after three months had had enough. But he did learn one thing: “They were true believers in something, and I don’t know what it was.”
Since then he has given TV viewers the “Beavis and Butt-head” series, and now, with “Silicon Valley,” shows that he did have an inkling of what they all (him included) believed in. It is the same thing people have been believing in since the beginning of belief: of hitting the mother lode, leaving a mark, making a change. And if you strike it rich, and have women discovering your hidden charms while you’re at it, all the better.
The anti-hero of the series is Richard, who lives in an “incubator” for young and hopeful program developers, a commune-style house owned by Ehrlich, who has already made millions by selling his bright high-tech idea (and learned HTML - “how to meet ladies” - as his T-shirt announces). Now he repays society by fostering other young talents, in return for 10 percent of their future earnings.
Richard’s bright idea is - in his view - a website that allows you to check if your bright idea for a song infringes an existing copyright. He calls it “Pied Piper” and while hoping to pitch the idea to some investor who will help him reach out to surfers, he works for a living at Hooli, a huge campus modeled on Google, which is also in the business of finding the next big idea with a potential to go viral.
It’s all about a binary vision of life: While you count your blessings, and dollars, using 10 digits from 0 to 9, online you program it using only 0 and 1. All the digital information is formulated in zeroes and ones. And Richard had managed - so it turns out, to come up with an algorithm (I don’t have the faintest idea what an algorithm is, but I do know that it is a sort of a Holy Grail of the digital world) which allows for compressing a huge amount of digital information in a relatively modest quantity of bytes, and that apparently has enormous implications.
When the news about Richard’s bright idea gets out - his co-workers pull his leg, claiming they are fascinated with his music copyright idea (they are not) and he carelessly shows them what he is working on - he becomes a chip that two Internet moguls bargain for. One, who is being advised by a guru, notices that programmers work in quintets of various social shades and offers him $4 million in cash for the algorithm. The other - who advises everyone to drop out of college and follow their own star, like Steve (Jobs), Bill (Gates), Larry (Ellison) and Michael (Dell) did - offers him a $200,000 investment so he can continue developing the idea.
Richard is faced with another binary dilemma: which Steve does he want to be? He can be either Steve Jobs, the brilliant entrepreneur who implemented ideas and created an apple-shaped world without writing a line of code, or keep on being Steve Wozniak, who kept on programming and was left with only scraps of the golden apple.
So what happens to Richard in the first episode? He throws up and rushes to a doctor, who diagnoses an anxiety attack, to which valley geeks are prone to succumb, and with the same breath pitches an idea for an application that measures your vitals and can tell you whether you are really ill, or just having another anxiety attack. And that’s Silicon Valley in a nutshell.
The first episode got very good reviews from all, Silicon Valley geeks included. It is intelligent, funny, and shows that geeks are as human as you and me, and that their bark is as endearing as their byte. You will get acquainted with characters nicknamed Guilfoyle and Big Head (guess why he’s called that), and there is Monica, because the potential for a love story is mandatory, even for digitaloids. You can find the names of the actors on the Internet - the new series has its own site, of course - and you can follow it with empathy if you know what it’s all about (in technical terms), and even if you know only what makes a human - any human - tick.
From the valley of the dolls to the valley of the drolls, or trolls. It’s Silicon Valley, silly.