Silicon Valley is set up to be amazing before the first episode even starts. The talent pool is unreal. Not only does the cast include some of the funniest comedians working today, but it is created by Mike Judge, the brilliant writer behind Office Space, King of the Hill, and Idiocracy. The series follows a group of Northern Californian computer entrepreneurs as they attempt to strike it rich à la Google, Apple, Facebook, and every app you’ve ever heard of (and some you haven’t).
But for some reason, Silicon Valley just doesn’t hit. The writing is sharp enough, though the best gags in the episode are non-verbal, coming more from visual bits and set design, which is very reminiscent of Idiocracy‘s flamboyant exaggeration of consumerism. That’s all well and good, but if the funniest parts of your situation comedy are not the jokes, you are getting off on the wrong foot.
The problem seems to be the cast, which is outrageous when you consider the gifted men (and one woman) on screen. T. J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods are all comfortable in their various roles, playing either versions of themselves or characters they have played before. But the chemistry just is not there. Yet.
The main character, Richard Hendrix, a developer who accidentally creates an algorithm that could revolutionize the industry, is played by UCB improviser Thomas Middleditch. Middleditch is one if the funniest comedians working the scene these days, and he has been due for a huge breakout for a few years now. But Richard is not a character that plays well to his strengths. Middleditch can play extremely weird or completely straight, but his unimaginably meek portrayal of Richard drops all of the performer’s natural charisma. Richard is entirely uninteresting, and it is very difficult to imagine an entire show built around him.
I can easily imagine a scenario where focus on Richard is sacrificed in favor of ensemble build-up. That would be the right move for the show at this juncture, it is just too bad Middleditch may end up with the short end of the stick. It is entirely natural for sitcoms to evolve in time and character; Silicon Valley will be no different. Hopefully Mike Judge and his writers figure it out quickly though, as those short HBO seasons do not leave a whole lot of room for experimentation.