Silicon Valley digs deeper into tech comedy

Viewers are drawn to the underdog story of would-be entrepreneurs in the series Silicon Valley.
Viewers are drawn to the underdog story of would-be entrepreneurs in the series Silicon Valley.PHOTO: HBO ASIA

HBO's acclaimed technology satire continues to dream up plotlines based on plausible, well-researched scenarios

In the new season of comedy series Silicon Valley, programmer Richard Hendricks tries to create a brand new decentralised Internet powered only by mobile phones.

It might sound far-fetched, but the creators of HBO's acclaimed technology satire have seen other fictional scenarios they dreamt up happen for real, such as about the insane sums of money involved in start-up valuations then.

The technology in the storylines they come up with for Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and his fellow would-be entrepreneurs Erlich (T.J. Miller), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) are based on plausible, well- researched scenarios.

Middleditch says the show's writers do their homework before they make jokes about the San Francisco Bay area's cut-throat tech sector.

"The thing that Richard's pitching would be an unregulated, unfiltered, non-proprietary version of the Internet - something that has no rules because no one owns it, it's only on phones and that's it, there are no Internet service providers", the Canadian actor recently tells reporters in Los Angeles.

While this has not been created yet in real life "because certain milestones haven't happened", the writers have nonetheless "consulted leading tech people, so what Richard pitches is at least plausible".

The show thus finds comedy in both "existing technology" and "some other crazy thing that's yet to come", says the 35-year-old actor, whose role as the socially awkward Richard got him an Emmy nomination for Best Comedy Actor last year.

He adds: "Part of the show's success is due to its attention to detail and striving to get it right. We come from a place of love and education and say, 'This is what the world is', and then we send up a few things. As opposed to 'Look at them nerds over there doing their nerd s**t'.

The series' fourth and latest season airs in Singapore on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on Mondays. The show has certainly been a hit with critics, earning glowing notices and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy three years running, from 2014 to 2016.

Its fans include real-life Silicon Valley insiders as well as those who are not tech-savvy at all, says Middleditch.

With Silicon Valley types, he gets mostly two kinds of compliments: "One is, 'Hey, I love the show - that one thing that happened, happened to me or a friend', or 'I know a Richard or a Gilfoyle'.

"Or it's, 'I can't watch your show because it reminds me of something I went through and it's traumatising'. I'll take either compliment because it just means we're doing it accurately."

For those who know nothing about the tech sector, "partly what brings people in is it's an underdog story, or they might just think it's funny", he adds.

Another reason to watch the series might be the crystal ball that one of its creators, Mike Judge, seems to have.

Middleditch notes that Judge - who was behind the animated comedy series Beavis And Butt-Head (1993-2011) and King Of The Hill (1997-2010) - wrote and directed the cult satirical movie Idiocracy (2006), which is set in a future where the dumbest people in society have outbred the smart ones and a former professional wrestler is now the President of the United States.

Idiocracy has sparked new interest since the American presidential election last year, when its themes seemed to take on new meaning.

This and the prescient elements of Silicon Valley's plotlines suggest that "maybe Mike Judge is like some weird prophet", Middleditch jests.

"Or maybe he's just very attuned to what's going on culturally because Idiocracy is now this weird futuristic documentary.

"So if you want to know what's going to happen in 10 years, talk to Mike Judge. Maybe get him stoned and have the prophecies shoot out of his mouth."

•Silicon Valley Season 4 airs on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on Mondays at 10am and 10pm. It is also available on HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602) and HBO on StarHub Go.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Silicon Valley digs deeper into tech comedy'. Print Edition | Subscribe