COUCH GROUCH

Nerds and geeks rule on television

Canadian actor Thomas Middleditch (left) as the main dork in Silicon Valley, with Josh Brener, who plays his pal; and Jason Beghe (below far left) is the scary, rule-bending anti-hero cop in Chicago P.D. -- PHOTO: MATT DINERSTEIN/NBC
Canadian actor Thomas Middleditch (left) as the main dork in Silicon Valley, with Josh Brener, who plays his pal; and Jason Beghe (below far left) is the scary, rule-bending anti-hero cop in Chicago P.D. -- PHOTO: MATT DINERSTEIN/NBC
Canadian actor Thomas Middleditch (left) as the main dork in Silicon Valley, with Josh Brener, who plays his pal; and Jason Beghe (below far left) is the scary, rule-bending anti-hero cop in Chicago P.D. -- PHOTO: HBO ASIA
Canadian actor Thomas Middleditch (left) as the main dork in Silicon Valley, with Josh Brener, who plays his pal; and Jason Beghe (below far left) is the scary, rule-bending anti-hero cop in Chicago P.D. -- PHOTO: HBO ASIA

New series is a comical spoof of computer nerds and other stereotypes in Silicon Valley

When a pack of guys hang out together, it is always very funny and curiously enlightening in an overgrown kid sense.

For the longest time, I had wondered why nobody had made a spoof series about computer nerds crashing together to come up with the next big-insane- dollar idea.

You know, like the origin of Facebook made into The Office: Freaks, Geeks And Billionaire Losers Version.

"They always travel in groups of five, these programmers," goes the wickedly hilarious observation in Silicon Valley.

"There's always a tall, skinny white guy; short, skinny Asian guy; fat guy with a ponytail; some guy with crazy facial hair; and then an East Indian guy."

These creatures dwell in Silicon Valley, co-created by Mike Judge (Beavis And Butt-head and King Of The Hill).

This is HBO's Entourage but with Total Squares collecting all those comical, stereotypical impressions you have of how the tech geniuses of today would be the monumental misfits of society if they had not struck a goldmine with one game-changing billion-dollar innovation.

The main dork is Richard Hendricks, played by Canadian actor Thomas Middleditch, who is so good in the role you would buy a broken laptop from him.

Bunking with his pals in a shabby start-up incubator house of Steve Jobs-wannabes, he is the introverted, socially iffy, good-hearted coder who unwittingly develops a "compressed algorithm" - a Holy Grail way to compress giant files in impossible split seconds.

It means that from out of nowhere, the ugly duckling has two overly keen suitors - the devious big boss of Hooli, Gavin Belson (Big Love's Matt Ross) and a nicer angel-investor, Peter Gregory (the late Christopher Evan Welch), a nutty advocate of achieving ultimate, self- fulfilling success by dropping out of spirit-killing school like Bill Gates did.

The way these two rich freaks and the rest of the geeks are depicted is so funny it can only be due to naughty insider observations.

"I didn't shake a woman's hand until I was 17 years old," admits one tech geek who looks like "somebody starved a virgin to death".

In fact, Judge once worked in a Silicon Valley start-up and noticed that the people gathering there were "true believers in something and I don't know what it was".

So the best jokes are what seem to be painfully accurate descriptions of the denizens of weirdo tech culture.

Middleditch's Hendricks is one classic mumbly-mouthed and googily-eyed softie-smartie version of Jesse Eisenberg's blowhard Mark Zuckerberg in 2010's The Social Network.

His incubator-house owner-friend, Erlich Bachmann (She's Out Of My League's T.J. Miller), is a stoner-slacker of cracking comedic proportions.

Meanwhile, I am also laughing at Chicago P.D. But just a little bit only, because one scary stare from the main cop here, Sergeant Hank Voight (Jason Beghe, Ed Harris-lookalike journeyman actor in Castle, NCIS, Californication) and I would stop smiling for the rest of the week.

Now, I am giggling nervously because this guy played a really bad dude - a nasty crooked cop - in the first season of the fireman series, Chicago Fire.

Talk about an extreme makeover.

I saw Beghe in that show. I could not forget him.

Man, he frightened me even on my couch as he played his relentlessly dangerous Voight character who stalked and harassed one of the good-guy firemen in Chicago Fire until, boy, was I mightily glad that he was finally arrested.

It seems that Beghe was so good in the role that Dick Wolf - uber-producer of Law & Order and its various officious incarnations - decided to create a spin-off series anchored by his dubious anti-hero, Voight, the cop who bends the rules to get what he wants.

"Cut his eye out, do what you have to do," he urges a fellow cop in one urgent instance.

You know, I cannot remember whether I have seen this before - a bad guy in one series becoming a good guy in another. Those same threatening eyes of Voight's are now filled with soft compassion in some scenes.

And this is what a fine long-time character actor like Beghe is all about.

He really deserves this lead role here after staying so long in the background and he makes Chicago P.D. refreshingly different from other Dick Wolf cop shows filled with clear-cut good guys.

Within his Chicago police intelligence unit, even some of Voight's co-detectives are wary of him and the show positively thrives on this lingering suspicion among the ranks.

So while Voight leads his team in cracking cases and cracking the heads of killers, thugs and drug dealers, he himself is being hounded and policed by other policemen, the righteous investigators from Internal Affairs.

The deal here is that the essentially decent Voight cuts deals with baddies to infiltrate the gangs and, at the same time, to protect his squad.

"You tell me the truth so I can lie for you," he demands of his team in his menacing, gravelly low voice.

Beghe is so compelling here I am as scared by Detective Voight as I am entertained.

stlife@sph.com.sg

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