Silicon Valley is the Best Comedy on Television

BY foxsports • June 15, 2015

To examine why HBO's hit comedy Silicon Valley worked so well this season, it feels prudent to look back to what it is Mike Judge has done best throughout his stellar career as an idea man and a writer of observational comedy. Indubitably, one of my favorite films of all-time is one I didn't see at the theater. I passed, because it looked stupid from the previews. I happened up on it one night late on a premium channel and decided to record it. That next day, I watched the videotape and fell in love.

That movie was Office Space.

While Judge disappointed me with Extract, which may be my fault for setting my expectations far too high based simply on it being another workplace-style comedy, I've always enjoyed Mike's ability to take something mundane, make it insane, but still leave a mild sense of realism to the proceedings. Look at King of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead, even Idiocracy, as all had bundles of key and easily recognizable Mike Judge tendencies. He peaked, we thought, with Office Space. What he's done since has largely been somewhat mediocre in the opinion of many critics and even avid fans of his work. That changed when Richard Hendricks (who incidentally often mumbles like Stephen Root's Milton from Office Space) and the crew hit the screen last year to join Veep and Last Week Tonight as the greatest comedy block on TV seemingly in eons.

So why did Silicon Valley work originally? Honestly, in the early going, I wasn't quite sure it fully worked, but I knew the level of promise that surrounded the project. I adored that cast; following Martin Starr from Freaks and Geeks through Party Down and everywhere in between, had become a fan of Kumail Nanjiani through his podcast work under Chris Hardwick's Nerdist umbrella and surprisingly enough as a result of Franklin and Bash, and TJ Miller was TJ Miller. He was a gem. I despised Zach Woods' character on The Office, but not the improv veteran behind that role. I was relatively new to Thomas Middleditch and some of the supporting talent, but quickly grew to love them as well. But again, it wasn't a grand slam out of the gate.

With that said, by the later stages of Season 1, it was definitely a triple, and it didn't require the batter to leg out a great throw to the bag. By the finale, it was a mercy rule. These guys found "it" quickly and they took "it" into the stratosphere. It received an Emmy nomination in Season 1, not to mention a Best Comedy win at the Critics Choice Awards, and that honor was well deserved. I would suggest that if Silicon Valley were to win one the big prize this time around, no one's going to complain about it. Season 2 was absolutely stellar from start to finish, but again, why does this show work so well and show no signs of slowing down?

Let's talk about the narrative conceit that Judge believes in for his comedy. In this case, he and Dave Krinsky, John Altschuler and the rest of his staff decided that this show needed to be, for lack of a better description, the anti-Entourage. In the latter, Vincent Chase fucked up constantly in every way imaginable but still found work and still had a killer agent who believed in him. E was a douche, had no business experience, but still made money and was banging hot women left and right. Turtle was a weed dealer known for Bose headsets and turned into some kind of tequila magnate and he was sleeping with Meadow freaking Soprano. Ari Gold was Ari Gold. But, in the movie, it all still works out. "Eminence Front" was still pounding to end the proceedings.

Mike Judge made it clear in interviews about the show that while it was cool to see Pied Piper find that success through engineering application of the most elaborate penis joke of all-time (I imagine Clay was misty eyed in quiet reverence, I know I was), comedy was in failure. This idea proves to be a double-edged sword. What we know about this show is the good guys are going to have triumphs, but they're going to be short lived and the fall is going to be immense. Season 1 ends with the $50,000 check but it also ends with Richard vomiting. Season 2 opens up with VC investors and other tech firms, but that episode ends with the Gavin Belson Hooli lawsuit. Season 2 ends with Pied Piper and Hendricks escaping the end of their company, but immediately Richard is fired as he's voted out by Laurie Bream and Raviga.

That's what we got and it's what we're going to continue to get. Judge thinks the short-lived highs must be just that: short-lived. In this case, he sees the lows and the pitfalls as sources for the humor and the depth. One rule I always stick to and have mentioned before is the idea that it's the penultimate episode of any drama that packs the biggest punch. Some shows stray from the theory, but in general, it's the NEXT to last entry that brings that emotional breaking point that the finale seeks to remedy before dropping some kind of a cliffhanger bomb. In 24, it was hour 23 where everything had hit the fan, just as one example. Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), David Chase (The Sopranos), and Benioff and Weiss (Game of Thrones), were and are often able to go heavy-drama in their last and second-to-last hours of a season.

What Judge and his team have done is find a way to continually repurpose the heaviest moment of a penultimate episode and throw it at the audience three or four times a season. With this as his structure, he can pivot in all sorts of directions. Look back through Season 2 and you'll find not only the Hooli lawsuit, but the screw-up with the adult film company, Richard's mistakes, several other subplots that submarined Pied Piper, and of course the end-game that sets us off on a completely different path entering Season 3.

Through the heartache and the awkward problems, Silicon Valley was absolutely hilarious. All the characters got moments to shine and we got plenty of excellent Dinesh and Gilfoyle camera time with one another. The SWOT episode was fall-on-the-floor funny, particularly the interactions with Jared and even more so with Blaine. Each episode was also paced well. There were a few slow moments in Season 1, but almost nothing that dragged in any way this time around. Usually, a good show finds its voice late in its inaugural year, capitalizes in Season 2, perfects its vision early in the third year, and either coasts or expands through the remainder of its run. The best shows find a way to avoid "rest on laurels" syndrome and continue to evolve. In comedy, it can be tougher, but if the first two seasons and the growth from the pilot to last night's finale are any indication, HBO has another major notch in the belt.

The ensemble works, the humor works, the setting works, the concept works, the supplementary cast works, and the pacing works. I thought for sure we'd have some kind of romance with Richard and Monica, but it hasn't been the case. Love and even promiscuous sex hasn't been a focal point; instead it's been used as an occasional catalyst to drive the characters forward naturally. The idea of sex is always prevalent, but often in that "We're nerds and we like hot chicks" kind of way. I can relate. There's not much negative I can say except I really want Pied Piper to succeed and those glimpses of bright light at the end of the tunnel are so infrequent. It can be frustrating when the top of the mountain seems to close.  

If there's any issue I have today, it's that ten episodes feels so brief, but it's always been the HBO comedy way and increasingly, the drama way. It might be why we enjoy these shows so much, because they never wear out their welcome. The 24-episode network season of many shows this century run out of steam quickly. We still haven't gotten a full network television length of season if we add both Silicon Valley campaigns together; at least not a Friends or a Seinfeld season.

There's a structure here, and provided you're okay with watching people you like fall on their face more often than they ascend to the medal stand, Silicon Valley is nearly flawless. I hate that we don't have more of it right now, but it will make us appreciate Season 3 that much more once we do. I hate that Christopher Evan Welch passed away, because he was amazing as a performer both here and in other things, but Suzanne Cryer did a great job of being an emotionless, bottom-line robot. If you missed this season or haven't watched the show, effing fix it.

You're missing one of the finest, funniest, most well-developed and executed comedies to hit the small screen in many years. Mike Judge is at his best when he's in full satire mode, and he's struck gold here.

It gets no simpler than this: Silicon Valley is a great freaking television show. It became my favorite comedy the second Parks said its final farewell. Season 2 gets an A.

Russ Hanneman bumping Limp Bizkit's "Nookie" is reason enough for another Emmy nomination. Screw that. It's good enough for a win.

I'm @GuyNamedJason on the tweets. Come follow me...or perhaps I'll just SWOT you.


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