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The New Masters of the Universe

What happens when Mike Judge turns his sardonic comedic vision—that same one that brought us Office Space, King of The Hill, and Idiocracy—toward the tech industry of Northern California?

We end up with an HBO show called Silicon Valley that you could describe, in one way, as the late HBO show Entourage (about a band of 20-something wannabe actor dudes in Los Angeles) meets Sex in the City (about a band of single, middle-aged, man-hunting women in New York), The Social Network (a film about Facebook by Aaron Sorkin) and Girls (an HBO series about 20-something millennial-generation women set, largely, in Brooklyn).

Except Silicon Valley is about a tribe of nerds: math-minded, socially awkward, mild-mannered computer guys. In other words, these guys have the discipline, talent, and particular skill set to become exceedingly wealthy in our modern times and successful beyond their wildest imaginations.

Matt Ross, Jill E. Alexander, Zach Woods, T.J. Miller, Thomas Middleditch and Josh Brener in 'Silicon Valley'Image: HBO

Matt Ross, Jill E. Alexander, Zach Woods, T.J. Miller, Thomas Middleditch and Josh Brener in 'Silicon Valley'

HBO just extended Silicon Valley to a second season, which is not a surprise. Five episodes in to the premiere season, the comedy is drawing a respectable 1.5 million viewers or more each week. Besides humor, the show delivers lethal, South Park-style social commentary with the ongoing story of a band of techies near Palo Alto, who are living together in a house, hitting it big (kind of) with a start-up and dealing with all the hiccups that accompany success (or failure) in the modern tech industry.

Tech startups are, in a way, the new rock bands in America, representing a youthful desire for wealth, power and fame on par with our existing archetypes: Steve Jobs and Apple; Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, Sergey Brin and Google. The show's main character, Richard (Thomas Middleditch), goes from mopey outcast to hit-boy in the first episode with his music matching web-site called Pied Piper.

While his web site seems trivial at first, the compression algorithm he builds to run the site becomes a rage in the Valley and creates a bidding war for his talent. First an offer arrives from the chief of a Google-like company called Hooli run by a transcendentalist-loving capitalist named Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) who offers Richard $10 million for his company. Meanwhile, Venture Capital genius Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) offers Richard $250,000 for a 10% stake in Pied Piper. Richard's decisions set up new series of conflicts, challenges, and choices that drive the plot for the rest of the first season.

Gregory draws striking similarities to real life billionaire Paypal co-founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel. For example, both men champion smart young people avoiding college. "College has become a cruel expensive joke on the poor and the middle class," Gregory says, delivering a public lecture in the first episode. With some of the best lines on the show, Gregory functions as a libertarian, self-interested source of business wisdom, deadline pressure, and anxiety for Richard and the Pied Piper team.

Many of the conundrums the Pied Piper team faces—funding, management, social ineptitude, IP theft, marketing, authenticity—are (so far) realistic to those that many start-up entrepreneurs wrestle with today. In episode 3, for example, the team is discussing a new name for Pied Piper because some of the team hate the current name. "Are we an Irish pornography company?" asks the character named Erlich (T.J. Miller), who is a Big Lebowski-style landlord and investor in Pied Piper.

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