'Silicon Valley': Tech nerds' world comes to life
Before he created "Beavis and Butt-Head" and "King of the Hill," Mike Judge was a physics major working as an engineer in Silicon Valley, writing software for aircraft carriers for the F/A-18 fighter jet.
He took some mental notes on how weird it all was.
"It’s a lot of antisocial introverted people thrown together," he says over the phone in his deep, halting voice -- closer to Hank Hill than Butt-Head (both of whom he voiced in those series). "A lot of these guys would not fit in another workplace."
But together, they make a humorous gang of nerds in hoodies, who spend their days writing code in hopes of becoming the newest startup millionaires -- roles that they are even less suited to fill, even as they try on their Steve Jobs-style turtlenecks.
That’s the premise behind "Silicon Valley," the new HBO comedy he has made with Alec Berg that premieres April 6.
"Silicon Valley" stars a group of mostly young comic actors led by Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr and Josh Brener, playing programmers who share a suburban house -- an incubator -- as they work on their various ideas in a town eager to gobble them up.
Almost immediately in the story, there’s a battle between two Silicon Valley giants and corporate seers over a compression app created by Middleditch’s character Richard.
"He totally doesn’t have the best social skills and he frets in his social position," says Middleditch, who resembles a slacker version of Seth Meyers.
"I thought about doing something in this area for a long time," Judge says. But, suddenly, everybody had an idea about it. John Altschuler, a writer on "King of the Hill" who is an executive producer here, "had an idea about doing a show like ‘Dallas’ or ‘Falcon Crest’ but instead of oil or wine money, it would be about tech money," Judge says.
Then HBO approached with an idea to do a series about video game players, Judge says. "And I didn’t know the gaming world at all. But I did know this world."
Berg, a former writer on "Seinfeld" and executive producer of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," had some familiarity as well. "My dad was a Harvard biophysicist, and my brother was an electric engineer who worked for Microsoft, worked for Vulcan, went to Stanford for computer science," he says, "so it was very much in my life."
But there was a reason there hadn’t been a series about the digital boom.
"We’ve been joking that we’re doing a series about something that’s inherently unfilmable," Berg says. While it’s understandable to have police, fire and emergency room TV shows, where "every 10 minutes a story comes running through your door," he says, "watching guys type is not super exciting. So we’re consequently having to figure out ways to make what these guys do interesting and presentational, visual."
Judge had heard it before.
"When I did ‘Office Space,’" he says, "there was some concern back then about: How are you going to make a movie about people who sit in desks? But I think because there’s not obvious action stuff there, it’s kind of a challenge that ends up yielding really interesting character stuff. I think that ended up happening with this, too."
Besides that, some of industry’s giants, from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Google creators Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have become more widely known as personalities.
In fact, some of their stories migrated to "Silicon Valley."
"The big thing with Mike is satire -- pulling in from what’s real and changing as little as possible, just to reflect at how ridiculous most of real life is," says Middleditch, who has worked with Judge previously by lending his voice to Stewart in the last iteration of "Beavis and Butt-Head."
As such, "it was impossible to clear names for the show because any nonsense arrangement of letters they came up with had already been taken," Middleditch says.
So in a land of Google and Yahoo, they came up with Hooli as a giant tech company run by a megalomaniac played by Matt Ross, familiar from his role in HBO’s "Big Love."
"Silicon Valley" (30 minutes) premieres Sunday, April 6 at 10 p.m. on HBO.
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