Silicon Valley: Start-up stars are subject of HBO's latest sitcom


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The Independent Culture

Some tech billionaires are now celebrities on a par with movie stars, so it seems only fitting that HBO should give the Bay Area tech industry its own show along the lines of Entourage.

Silicon Valley, a sitcom scheduled to debut in the US on 6 April, is set in the cutthroat world of California internet start-ups and venture capitalists. Like Entourage, which followed the frivolous antics of a Hollywood actor and his closest friends, the darkly comic new show will focus on a tight-knit group of tech worker friends, but also feature regular cameos from some real-life Silicon Valley stars.

Silicon Valley was co-created by the veteran comedy writers Mike Judge and Alec Berg. Judge, the creator of King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead, enjoys a cult reputation in the tech world for his portrayal of IT workers in the 1999 film Office Space.

The first series of eight half-hour episodes was commissioned by HBO, the cable channel responsible for Entourage as well as Girls, Veep and Curb Your Enthusiasm, which previewed the first two episodes to critics this week during the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena.

Judge and Berg revealed that not only had they done serious research into the Bay Area tech business and the colourful characters it contains, they also had personal experience of the scene they planned to satirise. Before becoming a successful TV writer and filmmaker, Judge worked as a test engineer in Silicon Valley. Berg’s brother, meanwhile, worked for Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft.

Since the release of The Social Network in 2010, television executives have sought to emulate the Facebook biopic’s vast commercial and critical success. HBO’s new series is a reflection of the cultural power now wielded by the tech industry.

Amazon, which like its rival Netflix is moving into original programming, recently released its own start-up sitcom, to middling reviews. Betas, whose show-runners are former King of the Hill writers Alan Cohen and Alan Freedland, is about a group of nerdy friends developing a dating app in San Francisco.

In 2012, Bravo broadcast a “scripted reality” show, Startups: Silicon Valley, which purported to reveal the lives of six aspiring internet entrepreneurs. It received a critical mauling from reviewers and tech industry insiders and was cancelled after a single series.

Silicon Valley centres on Richard, a shy, nerdy computer programmer who lives with several tech worker friends in a “start-up incubator” home owned by a smug dotcom millionaire. The show’s creators said they were particularly taken with the conflicted philosophy of Silicon Valley’s tech residents. “They all have to shroud their capitalism with this ‘We’re making the world a better place’ thing,” said Judge.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, while the show is clearly satirical, Judge and Berg are not wholeheartedly critical of the characters they plan to portray. “It’s hard to say what they’re doing is bad,” said Berg. “But anyone who takes themselves too seriously and is full of themselves is ripe for a kicking.”