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Posted: 5:03 p.m. Monday, March 10, 2014

SXSW review: 'Silicon Valley' 

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Janet Pierson and Mike Judge. photo
Janet Pierson and Mike Judge.

By Matthew Odam

Google “Silicon Valley SXSW.” You will likely find a mention of the world premiere of co-creator Mike Judge’s new HBO show. But you’ll also get hundreds of other hits. The interactive festival has served as one of the most important tech events of the year – a promotional circus for brands and a meeting grounds for angel investors and entrepreneurs. And, of course, a tech trough for hungry consumers.

Northern California may be ground zero for tech start-ups, but Austin has become integral as a launching pad, making SXSW the perfect venue for the world premiere of Judge’s new half-hour comedy.

The show stars Thomas Middleditch as soft-spoken Richard, the intellectual linchpin and emotional stabilizing force in a house of programmers and developers. The house is actually an "incubator," overseen by self-important burn-out Erlich (improv great T.J. Miller), who sold his former company -- the name of which he pronounces with a pretentious and vaguely European accent -- and is invested in the success of the young men under his roof.

Erlich has a 10% ownership in all of the ideas being incubated, which doesn't seem like a big deal until people with big bucks start circling Richard.

Richard and his best friend, Big Head (Josh Brenner) work at a fictional tech company that closely resembles a stereotypical start-up-turned-monolith. There are marketing meetings held on group bikes, fancy cappuccino machines, mandatory "voluntary" retreats, and a CEO who has a spiritual adviser and speaks in ridiculous maxims.

Richard toils at the company in anonymity until he shows some condescending developers his new idea that runs on a complex compressing algorithm. When the company's CEO gets word of the invention, he offers to buy it for millions of dollars, only to be undercut by venture capitalist billionaire Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) --   an eccentric, socially awkward libertarian who mocks university education.

Richard must decide between a cash grab or maintaining ownership of his idea and cultivating it. The decision creates drama back and the incubator and some internal wrestling on the part of the anxiety-riddled Richard, who realizes he is in well over his head.

The first two episodes of the show incited bursts of laughter from the tech-minded audience at the Vimeo Theatre. Many phrases you hear bandied about at SXSWi parties and panels --  “disrupting digital media,” “multi-platform integration” and “brand activation" -- are the source of many satirical jabs. But you don't need to be a card-carrying need to enjoy "Silicon Valley."

It is less a show about ones and zeroes and more about friendship, relationships and navigating a competitive and easily-mocked world.

The show, which also stars the very funny Martin Star and Kumail Nanjiani as residents of the incubator house, will premiere on HBO in April. The first season consists of eight episodes.

Matthew Odam

About Matthew Odam

Matthew Odam is the restaurant critic and reporter at the Austin American-Statesman, where he also covers the local film scene and writes film criticism.

Connect with Matthew Odam on:Twitter

Send Matthew Odam an email.

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