Mike Judge knows a thing or two about satire. Judge is responsible for some of the sharpest edges in workplace and cultural commentary since his animated series Beavis and Butthead debuted on MTV in 1993. On the big screen, he is responsible for the biting political satire of Idiocracy (2006), the under-appreciated Extract (2009) and one of the greatest workplace comedies in recent memory, Office Space (1999). On television his biggest past successes have been in animation: Beavis and Butthead (1993) and King of The Hill (1997). This changed last year with the debut on HBO of Judge’s Silicon Valley (2014) a half-hour comedy set in the start-up/venture capital world of California’s Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley skewers the tech culture of "the Valley." Part of the genius of the comedy is its ability to sound and look authentic to its setting ("middle-out compression," anyone?) without alienating viewers who do not work in the tech sector. Silicon Valley is at its best when it capitalizes on the relationships of its characters in classic sitcom style without sacrificing any of the intelligence or comment of its satire. The show takes swipes not just at the culture of companies like Google but also at the larger commonalities of corporate America.
All of this is acutely on display in Season 2, Episode 6, “Homicide.” In their arms race with tech giant Hooli, the guys of Pied Piper look to hook up with a college friend of T. J. Miller's Ehrlich who now owns a successful company that manufactures an energy drink called Homicide. The Homicide team is planning an extreme stunt, and Pied Piper wants to live stream the event in HD. The Homicide story line gives Judge and his team the opportunity not just to poke fun at the tech world but also to lampoon the ridiculousness of the "extreme" sport and drink culture. The name alone -- "Homicide" -- is ludicrous, but, in typical Judge fashion, entirely believable. The jokes of Silicon Valley land because they are equal parts outrageousness and inherent, underlying truth. We, as viewers, laugh and cringe simultaneously, knowing that the jokes are jokes but understanding that, on some level, the joke is on us. This is the heart of the brilliance of the Silicon Valley and all of Judge’s satirical work.
Jared (played to perfection by the long-suffering Zach Woods) represents the best and worst of corporate culture. He introduces the Pied Piper crew to the concept of SWOT (Strengths and Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. "I’ve booby-trapped the house with corporate resources," he gleefully tells the team. Not being a tech guy, he is often the stand-in for the viewer, trying to bring everyday workplace jargon into a start-up at the Hacker Hostel. His failures and politically-correct HR awkwardness create a tension that would be lacking if we only spent time with the programmers and coders. Silicon Valley needs a Jared for narrative value as much as Pied Piper needs a Jared to make sure the bills get paid on time.
On a character level, Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) prove again in “Homicide” that the odd couple is a classic TV trope for a reason. They are, in the best possible ways, the tech world's equivalent of Chandler and Joey on Friends (1994), Charlie and Mac on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (2005), or Murray and Ted on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970). In this episode, Jared’s SWOT analysis is Chekhov’s gun, set up to explode with the help of Gilfoyle and Dinesh in the third act.
“Homicide” has everything that a viewer is looking for when coming to Silicon Valley or Mike Judge. The episode doesn’t hold back on the strength of its satire, but that satire heightens the show's other assets: enjoyable characters, solid narrative, and good old-fashioned laugh-out-loud jokes and sight gags.