“For thousands of years, guys like us have gotten the shit kicked out of us,” said Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch, “Splinterheads”), the twitchy and brilliant protagonist of HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” “But now, for the first time, we’re living in an era when we can be in charge and build empires! We could be the Vikings of our day!”
Season 2 Premiere
Sundays at 10 p.m.
His statement, delivered in endearing nerdiness, speaks not only to the rise of tech giants in our culture, but the shift in our idea of “heroes” — especially portrayed in media. Stock male characters (or TV’s “vikings,” if you will) have forever been strong, smooth and assertive, like President Fitz of “Scandal” or Don Draper of “Mad Men.”
But in “Silicon Valley,” creator Mike Judge (“Office Space”) flips TV’s macho characters on their meaty heads — or, more accurately, gets rids of them completely. In this world, the weirdest workers become the richest bosses, pimply programmers become overnight millionaires and Kid Rock becomes the poorest guy at a tech kid’s sell-out celebration.
The setting creates a near-perfect backdrop for comedy: while the Valley may be the “cradle of innovation,” it’s also an adult version of the high school cafeteria nerd table. Heated debates aren’t about NFL rivalries, but over which Steve (Wozniak or Jobs) played the bigger role in Apple’s creation. After-work parties consist of cringingly awkward small talk, nodding into beer bottles and slurping delicate “liquid shrimp” — a far cry from the raucous, drug-fueled escapades thrown by “Wolf of Wall Street”-depicted millionaires.
Still, money pulses on the pristine, color-popping campus of Hooli, the fictional tech company à la Google or Apple, where Richard works in season one. While staying at the “Hacker Hostel” with crass landlord Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller, “Big Hero 6”), sardonic Gilfoyle (Martin Starr, “Adventureland”), competitive and gullible Denish (Kumail Nanjiani, “Franklin & Bash”) and sweet but unskilled “Big Head” Nelson (Josh Brener, “The Internship”), Richard designs “Pied Piper,” an app that allows musicians to screen their music for copyrighted material.
Though bland on its surface, Richard’s app contains an incredible data-compression algorithm, which catches the eye of Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross, “Big Love”) as well as of eccentric venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch, “War of the Worlds”). Suddenly, Richard finds himself in a tug-of-war between the two billionaires, each with different offers: Belson’s willing to buy the app for a staggering $10 million; Gregory will invest just $200,000 — but will only take 5 percent ownership of Richard’s company.
After talking to Monica (Amanda Crew, “Charlie St. Cloud”), Gregory’s assistant and the lone female in a male-driven cast, Richard decides to keep Pied Piper and build the company himself. What ensues is chaos — Richard and his programming posse, with the new edition of the smart but socially inept Jared (Zach Woods, “The Office”), must build Pied Piper from scratch before Hooli outdoes them with its copycat product, “Nucleus.” Season one ends with a David and Goliath-like fight between the rivals at TechCrunch, a tech competition. In a frenzy of last-minute coding, Richard’s team wins, making Pied Piper the hottest thing in Silicon Valley.
Season two finds Pied Piper on the rise, as the team is wined and dined by venture capitalists eager to invest. Along with their newfound fame, another change has happened: Peter Gregory has died in a tragic safari accident involving a hippo, leaving fast-talking Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer, “Wag the Dog”) in his place — adding another much-needed woman to the scene.
What hasn’t changed in “Silicon Valley” is its comedic genius. Where the show could’ve plateaued after Pied Piper’s meteoric rise, it delivers scene after scene of the team scrambling in dysfunctional perfection — like when Erlich states that they’re “three-foot cocks covered in Elvis dust,” and Richard blurts angrily to investors, “I’m a three-foot cock! I’m covered in dust!”
Elvis-dust-covered or not, Pied Piper isn’t in the clear yet — Hooli’s rumored to be suing the company, investments are murky and Richard still can’t keep his lunch down under pressure. But despite their growing pains (or perhaps because of them), we’re still rooting for “Silicon Valley.”