Mike Judge’s shows and movies have always succeeded because of his keen eye for the absurdities of various cultures. Beavis and Butthead managed to become a massive cultural phenomenon by ruthlessly mocking MTV’s mid-90’s audience to MTV’s mid-90’s audience; Office Space became a cult classic for its brutal depiction of workaday corporate drone culture; King Of The Hill deftly (and lovingly) depicts a part of Texas that rarely finds itself presented as valuable on-screen; his Idiocracy looked at the whole of America, extrapolated some serious bummers, and found it wanting.
With his new HBO series, the sharp 30-minute comedy Silicon Valley—which on Monday at SXSW was screened for the first time in front of an audience—Judge turns that eye on the post-Jobs, post-Google California tech industry, where money flows freely, meetings are held on bicycles, everyone’s nonsensical app is spoken about in change-the-world terms, mealy-mouthed nerds are rock stars, and actual rock stars are the poorest people in any given room.
The first two episodes of the show (which, in its first season, will run for eight) were screened at the Austin Convention Center for a full-house crowd. They center around an “incubator,” or a house in Palo Alto where young tech-industry dudes live, work, and develop at the largesse of the home’s owner (played here by T.J. Miller with creative facial hair) in exchange for a 10% stake in whatever they create. When the house’s least promising resident, Thomas (Thomas Middleditch) turns out to have created a potentially billion-dollar application, things in the incubator start to heat up.
SXSW is an ideal place to screen a show that deals with the tech industry, young developers dreaming big, wasted money, and nonsensical tech-industry buzzwords. The “close to home” factor probably buoyed some of the laughs. An early scene featuring a guest appearance by Kid Rock as himself, playing a corporate gig to a bored audience, wasn’t a million miles away from an actual performance that happened at Easy Tiger on Saturday night by Best Coast. The combination of high-stakes talk about “making the world a better place” through meaningless tech minutiae and desperate dreamers hoping to land some sweet venture capitalist cash plays well on screen and in the SXSW Interactive trade show.
All of that meant that some of the laughs at the SXSW screening were probably of the “uncomfortable” variety, but that really just means that Silicon Valley is Judge being Judge. Office Space, probably Silicon Valley‘s most direct antecedent, is most widely beloved by the same customer service drones it mocks, after all. The show populates its world with TED Talk-ers and “LaVeyan Satanists” and other archetypes that rang true with the tech world audience.
Whether or not that authenticity translates to a wider world will be seen when the show premieres on HBO next month, but the network seems content to offer satirical glimpses into small, if broadly important, subcultures. The lives of people in East Texas are shaped by what happens in Silicon Valley as surely as they are by the halls of power explored in Veep. The teens, meanwhile, who aspire to leave their hometowns often dream of living in the Brooklyn of Girls. These niche worlds are the ones that matter broadly to the rest of the country.
If HBO is going to add the often-absurd, self-obsessed culture of Silicon Valley to its repertoire of relevant worlds to explore, they probably couldn’t have done better for a lens through which to view it than that of Mike Judge. At the very least, his skill for observing both the most interesting and most absurd aspects of a subculture is put to good use here.
Watch the trailer for the first season below: