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HBO's 'Silicon Valley:' The Problem With Taking Yourself Too Seriously

The new comedy gets plenty right--the jargon, the "brogrammers," the brashness of startup culture. But its greatest value isn't in perfect parody.
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Last night, HBO premiered Silicon Valley, the highly anticipated new comedy series from Mike Judge.

The show follows an introverted, Zuckerbergish computer programmer named Richard, who creates an algorithm in his spare time while working for the tech giant, Hooli (think Google). As fate would have it, two very big wigs, the larger-than-life Hooli CEO and a painfully robotic VC, recognize the value of the algorithm and a bidding war ensues. Richard, tired of being kicked around, takes the investment from the VC, gathers his band of coder friends, and starts a company called Pied Piper.

So far, a majority of the reviews have been positive. From executives in the tech space to geek-TV fans and loyal Judge followers--most see the show as a spot-on satire of a culture that has found itself in the national spotlight. I find the show to be well-written and down-right hilarious. The first episode jam-packs references to the parts of Silicon Valley culture regularly chronicled on TechCrunch or Pando (luxury buses, bike meetings, brogrammers, lame parties, awakard personalities, etc).

But as I began to write this review (which I will do every week, after each episode) I couldn't shake one person's comments on the show: Elon Musk.

The Space-X founder gave a rather defensive interview to Recode at a premiere party last week. Some choice quotes.

On the characters:
"None of those characters were software engineers. Software engineers are more helpful, thoughtful, and smarter. They're weird, but not in the same way," he insisted. "I was just having a meeting with my information security team, and they're great but they're pretty f*cking weird--one used to be a dude, one's super small, one's hyper-smart--that's actually what it is."

On parties:
"I really feel like Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley," opined Musk. "If you haven't been, you just don't get it. You could take the craziest L.A. party and multiply it by a thousand, and it doesn't even get f*cking close to what's in Silicon Valley. The show didn't have any of that."

Again with parties:
"The parties in Silicon Valley are amazing because people don't care about how they're perceived socially, which I don't think Mike [Judge] got. Hollywood is a place where people always care about what the public will think of them … and the show felt more like that," he said." 

Okay, so clearly Musk thinks Judge and crew didn't "get" how hard Silicon Valley parties. Check.

But while we can all agree that Musk is an entrepreneur to be respected and admired, I think he's missed the point. And this interview is a very good reminder of one thing: Don't take yourself too seriously.

This is just a story. It's the fictional story of an underdog taking the reigns and building a company. And, the truth is, as long as Silicon Valley is at the center of the national conversation and as long as Big Tech continues to fascinate mainstream media, everything open to interpretation and satire. 

And we should be thankful that it is. As someone who reads about startups day in and day out, I found it fun to watch the premiere and identify all the absurd little details that have, in fact, become cliche--the clash of social graces, terrible startup ideas, whims of billionaires. But the value of the show isn't in which details it gets right or wrong.

Its value lies in the big picture: Silicon Valley is the setting for the new American Dream. The show highlights that it's a place where brilliant minds meet--people with varied backgrounds and, er, social graces come together to create. It also doesn't hurt that money is everywhere.

But let's not get into too earnest a conversation here. Back to the Recode story, I think actor T.J. Miller, who plays the fame-seeking hack house mentor, sums it up well:

"...To be a target of humor is an honor--you have to be venerated to be satirized. Like, I'm sorry, but you could tell everything was true. You guys do have bike meetings, motherf*cker."

IMAGE: HBO
Last updated: Apr 7, 2014

NICOLE CARTER | Staff Writer | San Francisco Bureau Chief

Nicole Carter is Inc.'s San Francisco bureau chief. She was previously an editor at New York Daily News, and her work has also appeared in Consumer Reports magazine.




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