HBO's 'Silicon Valley': At play in the fields of the techies

The premiere of HBO's most anticipated series offered naivete, brutality, hope and despair. No, we're not talking about "Game of Thrones." We're talking about Mike Judge's "Silicon Valley."

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He's nice. He's clever. He vomits. HBO screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It's easy to tell an HBO show set in the modern world.

It has people wielding power and other people being put upon, and it always ends with some cool music that you haven't heard before.

The message is clear: We're ahead of you. We're going to show you the world as it really is. You're going to laugh, because if we presented it seriously, you'd vomit.

Indeed, vomit played a significant role in the first installment of HBO's new and much anticipated (among the chattering tech classes) satire of Silicon Valley, straight-facedly entitled "Silicon Valley."

For those who don't work on the West Coast, dedicating their lives to making the world at least 54 percent a better place, I will go through some basics of this series.

It features babies and incubators. Oddly, it's the babies' parents, not the babies themselves, who are tied to the incubators.

The baby theme continues. There are companies with baby names, boys with baby faces and men who look at themselves in the mirror and whisper: "Oh, baby, baby, baby," as they contemplate just how great they are.

But back to the vomit.

Our hero is a nice boy with a vast brain and the social skills of a 12-year-old who hasn't tried to kiss a girl yet.

He has created an app called Pied Piper. Its purpose is noble. It will instantly tell you if you'll infringe the law by using a certain piece of music.

The canny Valley

It's not essential, but it tries to do good. Indeed, this story starts by suggesting that the people who arrive in Silicon Valley have warm hearts, fine intentions and the dress sense of a worm that's just poked its head above ground, and is still caked in mud.

These boys -- only one woman seemed to have any role in Sunday night's episode and hers was the charm on behalf of a scoundrel -- have babies that they'd either like to bring up or have adopted.

The former is more hard work, but could mean untold riches. The latter offers instant riches, rather less untold, and also the prospect of your baby being enslaved by evil forces and perhaps even butchered at the hands of the unscrupulous.

But back to the vomit.

Our hero has a dilemma. It is not the Innovator's Dilemma. At least, not as Apple knows it.

No, he must decide between taking a small amount of money from a libertarian, quirky, possibly windbaggishly evil investor called Peter Gregory or a large amount of money from a possibly even more windbaggishly evil man called Gavin Belson, founder of a software corporation called Hooli.

Nice boys aren't ready to deal with two such nasty masters of pediatric care. So Richard, our hero, is confused and stressed. He therefore vomits.

He goes to an actual doctor to purloin a diagnosis. He is told that this is merely a panic attack. Then the doctor reveals that the last nice boy who had to make such a decision shot himself.

So Richard vomits again. But not before the doctor wonders if Richard would like to look at a new app. Yes, even the doctor has an app, just as everyone in Hollywood has a script.

Should you be wondering by this stage whether this show will make you vomit too, then much depends on whether you work in tech and have the rare ability to laugh not only at yourself, but at the thing to which you have dedicated so much time.

Real human beings will certainly find it funny, even if not every piece of terminology will be familiar.

The show bathes in its mordant humor and tries not to excessively caricature those who are already vast caricatures in real life.

In the first few minutes, it makes outsiders feel at home with words like "dick," "cum" and "assholes" -- the last, of course, in reference to Radiohead.

There's even a bemused Kid Rock who offers this perspective on the attendees of a Hooli party: "F*** these people." Some might say he speaks for much of America.

At the core of the show are the words of Belson. Explaining the brilliance of his company's software, he says: "We can only achieve greatness if first we achieve goodness."

It's a barely veiled poke at Google's "Don't Be Evil." But it's also true of a TV series. This first episode of "Silicon Valley" smelled royally of witty goodness. On the other hand, Belson's face radiated more venality than a body snatcher's.

In subsequent episodes, we know that Richard and his band of merry men -- stunningly, not a woman on this team -- will have to avoid succumbing entirely to the mire of bull in which they will now be swimming.

We, of course, will be on their side, laughing. Unless, like so many who have gone before them, they go over to the dark side.

Then, we'll be the ones to vomit.

 

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