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High-tech hilarity

Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill creator mines computer geekdom and hits paydirt for HBO

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Silicon Valley follows the lives of computer geeks vying to find the next big tech thing.

JAIMIE TRUEBLOOD/HBO Enlarge Image

Silicon Valley follows the lives of computer geeks vying to find the next big tech thing.

It's one of the most basic pieces of advice anyone stuck staring at a blank page or computer screen can receive: Write what you know.

And by doing just that, Mike Judge has created something smart, special and uniquely funny.

Before Judge became a mega-successful animator and TV producer with animated hits Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill, he toiled as an engineer in southern California's most concentrated computer-technology development community. Now he's drawing on that experience to create a new live-action comedy called Silicon Valley, which premières Sunday on HBO Canada (check listings for time).

The results, to borrow a term from the software/app world, are killer.

Silicon Valley is a delightfully insightful series set in present-day Silicon Valley, where thousands upon thousands of software developers, code writers, technicians and other assorted nerds spend countless hours hunched over their keyboards, trying to come up with an idea will make them the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

One such dreamer is Richard (Thomas Middleditch), a mid-level cubicle dweller at a software giant called Hooli (which, as presented here, looks and sounds a lot like Google). When he's not grinding away at his soulless day job, he lives in a house that doubles as a start-up "incubator" run by the delightfully loopy Erlich (T.J. Miller), who sold his fringe-y start-up for a big pile of cash and is now letting other would-be moguls live under his roof in exchange for a cut of any profits their ideas might yield.

Richard has been working on a music-search application called Pied Piper, which will allow users to quickly search to see if a piece of music they've created infringes on any existing copyrights. It's a pretty dull piece of business, but it soon becomes obvious that his seemingly dead-end app contains a digital-compression algorhithm that could have game-changing implications for the entire tech world.

Before he knows what's happening, Richard (with 10 per cent stakeholder Erlich insistently at his side) finds himself in the middle of a pitched bidding war as two billionaires -- the boss he's never met, Hooli founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), and venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) -- vie for his attention.

Belson offers him a huge pile of cash; Gregory offers him a much smaller sum that will allow him to maintain majority ownership of what might some day become a multibillion-dollar company.

Richard has a big decision to make. And with the help of Erlich, best friend Big Head (Josh Brener) and his other incubator housemates, he tries his best not to become just another guy whose "killer" idea became road kill on the information highway.

Silicon Valley is a sharply written and beautifully cast series with a very specific sense of place and a rock-solid understanding of its characters' quirks and motivations. It's clear from the outset that this is a show whose creator knows exactly what he's talking about, because he really did live there and do that long before he did the other well-known stuff that made him rich and famous.

 

Also returning Sunday night, right after Silicon Valley on HBO Canada, is Veep, and the early returns indicate a third-season landslide of laughs is on its way.

Selena Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) remains stuck in the dead-end job known as the U.S. vice-presidency, but as the new season opens, rumours of an impending retirement announcement by POTUS are circulating at a fever pitch, meaning Meyer's still-amazingly-inept team -- led by chief of staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky), communications manager Mike (Matt Walsh), ruthlessly ambitious political aide Dan (Reid Scott) and right-hand man Gary (Tony Hale) -- must try to maintain a sense of normalcy while also preparing to announce the VP's intention to run for the White House as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Crude, venomous, insincere and willing to do anything to win doesn't even begin to describe Meyer and her crew, but the fact that they're almost completely hamhanded at chasing the big prize makes Veep one of the most captivating comedies on television. Louis-Dreyfus is fully deserving of the pair of Emmy nods her performance has garnered, and she's surrounded by supporting players who never fail to meet the high standard she has set.

Best case scenario: a nomination, a campaign, an election and then four more years of Veep.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2014 C6

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