“Let’s just think different… uh, don’t think different, that’s Apple.”
— Richard Hendricks, the main character played by actor Thomas Middleditch on “Silicon Valley,” during the premiere of the HBO comedy Sunday night. The quote captures two of the show’s main themes: the portrayal of tech types as awkward, and how they say/believe/want to believe they are working on technology that will change the world.
The show’s first episode introduced viewers to a group of smart — but socially inept and insecure — guys working on an app they hope will be the next big tech thing. A party they attended was filled with guys not enjoying a live Kid Rock performance, as well as women with whom the men were not socializing. Because, you know, the guys were awkward.
“Silicon Valley” has received some positive reviews from TV critics, but not tech industry bigwigs such as Elon Musk. The Tesla CEO reportedly hated the show, whose first two episodes were shown to a few hundred people in Redwood City last week. “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,” Musk said after the screening, according to ReCode.
The skewering of Silicon Valley and startup culture comes amid interesting times for the tech industry. Tech’s profile has risen along with its everyday presence in our lives, from email to shopping to smart thermostats. But the higher profile has brought about some resentment, which has sparked protests and against income inequity in the Bay Area — which isn’t funny. But Alec Berg, a producer of the HBO show, tells the Atlantic: “I think we timed it perfectly… Some of the best satire is when you depict stuff accurately,” Berg says. “You put ridiculous things on camera and they look ridiculous. You’re just holding up a mirror to a lot of stuff.”
Speaking of holding up a mirror, the show’s first episode coincided with a New York Times article titled “technology’s man problem.” And what a coincidence it was: The show’s main characters were men who could barely make eye contact with women; they joked about a nipple-related app (maybe in homage to a real-life controversy over a breast-related app); only three women had speaking parts throughout the half-hour episode. It was “bro culture” and the lack of diversity in tech in a nutshell. As explored in the NYT article, it’s that very culture that has turned women off to the industry. It’ll be interesting to see how the issue is handled in future episodes.
Photo: Zach Woods, Thomas Middleditch, Alec Berg, Mike Judge, T.J. Miller, Kumail Janjiani, left to right, on the set of “Silicon Valley.” (Jaimie Trueblood/HBO)