I was late to the party on Silicon Valley. I was intrigued by the first episode when it hit HBO’s YouTube channel and saw potential in the show’s first tentative steps. I’d been a fan of creator Mike Judge’s past work, especially Idiocracy, but couldn’t really see how Judge’s inclination for unabashedly goofy toilet humor and redneck jokes would translate to a show about the tech industry. The show’s setting and focus came off as a little too insular, perhaps a bit too “inside baseball” for the show to catch on.
The show caught on, though, but I didn’t have an HBO subscription, and it went unwatched. Months later, I was still hearing about how the season finale had one of the best and most clever jokes about male genitalia ever written. Oh, well now I had to see it.
Luckily, HBO launched their standalone streaming service, and I happily devoured the first season of the show. What I love about Silicon Valley is that its lampooning of the American tech industry is so pointed. I’d spent five years of my life working for Apple and spent a week being trained in their facilities in Cupertino. Even though I spent most of my five years with Apple far away from California, the company’s culture spreads outward through its retail stores. So I’ve been somewhere inside the bubble of delusion. So has Mike Judge.
When Judge graduated from UCSD in 1985 with a degree in physics, he took the logical path and became an engineer. He got a job at a military subcontractor designing test systems for the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. That sounds really cool, but he was surrounded by the odd characters and bizarre routines of a cubicle job. He hadn’t yet drawn a single frame of animation, but it was at that job that he found the inspiration for his Milton animated shorts, which eventually inspired the cult classic we call Office Space.
In 1987, Judge moved to Silicon Valley and found work at a startup company called Parallax. They made interface cards that connected computers to early high-res monitors. Judge didn’t last three months at Parallax. “It really felt like a cult,” he says in an interview with WIRED. “They were true believers in something, and I don’t know what it was.”
That rung so true for me. Tech companies can develop a cult of forced cool, all held together by a sincere delusion that we do things differently here, man, and you wanna change the world. Judge absolutely nails that, but accuracy does not a hit TV show make. The show had to be broad enough to appeal to those who weren’t familiar with the tech industry. Fortunately, it’s consistently hilarious enough to do that, too. It also helped that HBO put it on right after Game of Thrones, in an effort to ensure that viewers of their most popular show in history (many of them nerds) would start watching. It worked.
Unlike some of his film work, it hasn’t taken years for Silicon Valley to be recognized as great. And now, after two solid seasons and a third premiering later this month, I’m very grateful that Mike Judge is a creator of Silicon Valley. He was the perfect guy for the job.
Season 4 of Silicon Valley is airing now on Sundays at 10PM on HBO.