Mike Judge’s fresh out of the box HBO series, Silicon Valley, has only aired a single episode on the premium channel, but the comedy show has already surpassed last year’s star-studded feature outing, The Internship, in nearly every way possible. If you’ve forgotten the 2013 summer comedy, well, good for you, but the first episode of Silicon Valley will likely jog some memories loose for you – especially when main characters Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and Big Head (Josh Brener) head off to work at a sparkly, cultish campus that looks a whole hell of a lot like Google.
Shawn Levy’s film centered on a pair of recently laid off old school sale dudes – Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, a reunion that basically served as the film’s only real attraction – who snag internships at Google (and, yes, actual Google, which feels like it just bankrolled the entire production) and attempt to reinvent themselves at the hip company. It’s like a big commercial for Google – a huge commercial – and that proves to be a major problem as the film winds on.
Back in June when I reviewed The Internship, I criticized the film for its Googlelove, writing: “while the entire thing feels like an advertisement for working at Google (where nothing bad can happen, even if you’re a liar!), the search engine giant will likely find itself inundated with applications by dumb bunnies that think that lying about their collegiate education and intentions don’t necessarily preclude them from getting a gig at the country’s most desirable corporate environment. Hyperbole? Probably, but The Internship is such a bizarrely hyperbolic outing that it’s hard to shake it when considering the final product.” Silicon Valley’s Google stand-in – “Hooli” – sure looks like Google, what with its bright colors and bike-riding employees and free cereal, but it also feels like a more realistic workplace.
How’s that? Well, Richard’s not exactly happy there. While the young techie gets that he should be grateful for the gig, he also doesn’t think that toiling in the lower levels of a giant corporation is his end-all and be-all. Silicon Valley, after just one episode, already looks to be set on following Richard’s quest to start his own company, thanks to the possibility of “application” use of an algorithm written into his Pied Piper program (basically, Richard’s personal project is a “Google for music,” one that is able to search and deliver compressed files without losing their integrity – and while Richard’s original aim is the software, it soon becomes obvious to his elders that it’s the algorithm that allows for the searching that is the real draw here).
His endgame is not working at Hooli – he’s doing that already, and it’s not great – even if plenty of people around him think that the company is where it’s at. There’s good pay! Stock options! Free cereal! But Richard’s experience feels more authentic, not just when it comes to Silicon Valley, but as it applies to the corporate world in general. His bosses don’t seem to care about him (or even know who he is), he’s bullied by some wanky coworkers, and his seemingly competitive pay doesn’t even remotely cover the cost of single housing (he has to live in “the incubator,” a nerd-crowded house owned by T.J. Miller’s character, who appears to ask for both rent and work from his tenants). Google and the big corporate machine, which is viewed as the only desirable option in The Internship is, in Silicon Valley, another hurdle to overcome when it comes to true professional fulfillment.
Elsewhere, the shady dealings of Hooli’s owner (Jake Broder as Dan Melcher), who tries to lowball Richard and his company in a big way, only adds to the sense that the corporation is not the paradise that everyone else is trying to sell it as. It’s a business, even if they have all the free cereal and colorful wall accoutrements in the world. Richard’s eventual rejection of Melcher’s offer – which would give him a big chunk of change and keep him on at Hooli – is an exciting one that will likely serve to drive much of the series’ action, and one that easily and intriguingly abandons all the flashy, sponsored BS that kept The Internship running right into the ground.
Sure, Richard might run back to Hooli (but we sure hope not), but at least Silicon Valley neatly skewered it and corporations like it in one single-serving episode, something The Internship couldn’t even dream of doing in a full-size feature.