Silicon Valley Season 1 Episode 1 Review: Minimum Viable Product

HBO kicks off its new series in style as Silicon Valley heavily satirizes the industry it depicts.

As someone who writes predominantly about Tech & Entertainment, it’s baffling to my own self that I haven’t reviewed Silicon Valley. I guess it’s down to this blog not really being at the state it is right now, coupled with other commitments that prevented me from taking a stab at this. Now, with a much finer understanding of how things work in the Valley coupled with anticipation for the HBO show’s upcoming final season, I thought it’d be best to do a rewatch and review this series on an episode-by-episode basis.

Silicon Valley deals with a bunch of programmers who stumble upon their way into possibly forming their own startup. Richard Hendricks designs a website to search for copyrighted music, with help of his supporting players. What he doesn’t realize is that in the process, he’s built an algorithm for compressing audio files that could be much more valuable than the website itself. While initially dismissed by a startup evangelist Peter Gregory as well as his own company’s programmers, both parties soon become informed of the vast potential this holds, kicking off a bidding war that sends poor-old Richard into a panic attack.

Right at the outset, Silicon Valley is a heavy satirization of the very industry it serves to depict. This theme is no accident though with writer, director and executive producer Mike Judge having burnt his hands in the Valley years ago and emerging rather exasperated from his experiences. Silicon Valley is a semi-accurate reflection of all that, of tech CEOs obsessed with tying their products into the theme of “making the world a better place”, of
skyrocketing costs in Palo Alto without comparable benefits, and a band of programmers disinterested in attending rock concerts and parties. It’s a world inhabited by outlandish lifestyles and powerful, often selfish people waiting to pounce on your idea the moment they spot any remote potential.

Silicon Valley S1E1 Richard Hendricks Pied Piper Pitch

Judge brings his brand of off-beat humor, banking heavily on T. J. Miller’s eccentric performance as Erlich Bachman, whose incubator the team codes within. Seeing himself as an overconfident, vulgar, crazy-genius version of Steve Jobs, Bachman possess mild rationale which comes into play at just the right moments. The rest of the supporting cast don’t really get as much room to flex out their muscles; future episodes should help remedy that. The writing by Judge is incredibly crisp and 30 minutes quite fly by, without a moment or a beat lost pondering over something forgettable.

The show’s depiction of technology is quite spot on with what little we’ve seen thus far. In Silicon Valley parlance, the Minimum Viable Product or MVP is essentially the bare minimum of a product or an app you need that can be shipped to market. In this case, the episode concludes with the gang having their MVP as they decide to ditch an incredibly handsome offer of $10 million by Gavin Belson, CEO of Hooli, and instead go for a $200,000 offer by Peter Gregory and his assistant Monica for 5% of the company. Notice that the company’s valuation remains the same but Gregory tempts Richard with 95% ownership of the company which, if you’ve ever been in the valley, is a distant dream in today’s times.

I loved the first episode’s tight narrative and how it settled us in on the dynamics of the industry. For someone not familiar with the Valley culture, it may appear a bit too unreal for one’s own taste. But as someone who does work in technology and putting aside some over-the-top beats, the show is spot on in its depiction of the dilemmas faced by a programmer-turned-entrepreneur. There’s a defining moment where Richard visits a doctor who vaguely remembers a patient with a similar dichotomy visiting him once; the patient ended up shooting himself out of regret for his choice but the ignorant doctor can’t really remember which choice he made. In that small moment, Silicon Valley momentarily amps up the stakes before breaking the ball by having the doctor pitch his own startup app to Richard.

It’s a crazy world out there and Silicon Valley captures it effortlessly with the premiere. Let’s see where this goes from here.

Silicon Valley Season 1 Episode 1 Rating: 9 out of 10

I’m doing individual episode reviews of HBO’s Silicon Valley in light of the upcoming final Season 6. While I’ve seen Seasons 1-3 before, I’m still writing with a fresh perspective, keeping references to future episodes down to a minimum.

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