HBO‘s newest comedy series Silicon Valley has the honor of debuting just after the best lead-in on television: Game of Thrones. Silicon Valley is a smart, engaging comedy about life in the fastest of fast lanes: Internet Startup Land. Zach Woods (The Office, Upright Citizens Brigade), who plays Jared on Silicon Valley sat down to speak with me the other day about comedy, the state of television, and of course his new HBO series.
Woods explained the premise of the show. “There’s all these young, sort of 20-something, enterprising tech guys who are [all] living in this kind of dirty house.” A high-tech incubator in the jargon of the day, overseen by the owner of the house, the slightly older–and successful Internet startup guy, Erlich (T.J. Miller).
“All of the guys,” Woods noted, “have aspirations to be tech innovators of one sort or another. And one of them [Tom, played by Thomas Middleditch] stumbles on — doesn’t really stumble on, he sort of — some combination of stumbles upon it, engineers compression software.” The application has the potential to revolutionize the way people download music. But its developer, an awkward, somewhat meek, but very geek 20-something has no idea just how revolutionary is his invention.
Once the corporate tecchies get their hands on his code, the application is up for grabs, and Tom has to make decisions and think like he has never had to think. He has gone from pipe dream to reality to potential multi-multimillionaire in 60 seconds flat, and what he does next will affect not only his future but that of co-inhabitants. It gets more and more complicated as the application gets the “interest to sort of big players in Silicon Valley — big tech billionaires.” Tom is totally unprepared for the unexpected success.
Caught between the CEO of Huli, hot to purchase the new application for millions, and a brilliant venture capitalist, who only wants a small cut of the company for a six-figure investment, Tom must decide between selling his next-best-thing outright or remaining in control of his creation, albeit for a lower immediate payoff and many more headaches. It’s a dilemma few have to face: a crapshoot that can change your life forever.
Silicon Valley is the brainchild of Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, Idiocracy, and no the series isn’t animated.) It’s a great show, and whether you are Internet savvy, are into geek culture or are simply looking for a situation comedy about the consequences and pitfalls of a life-altering event, you’ll enjoy Silicon Valley.
For Woods, the draw of doing the series was working with Mike Judge. “I mean, Mike Judge is like such a comedy juggernaut,” he said. “He just has made so much of the stuff — from the time I was a kid. I’d see Beavis and Butthead when I was a kid, and I thought it was really funny. And then, and then Office Space was like one of those movies that I saw where I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I didn’t know that there were comedy movies like this that resonated so much with what I think is funny.” And then there is King of the Hill.
Woods considers Judge to be one of the satirists in the business, able to get the point out, without gratuitous meanness, often present in TV comedy these days. “I think a lot of comedy is very mean, a point of view that people are shitheads ‘look at what an asshole everyone is.” Acknowledging that it can be funny, and that he likes some of those types of comedies, he noted that he more likes comedies that lpoke fun at people, but the characters retain their humanity, even when they’re being assholes or shitheads, or whatever.”
One of things I like best about the series is that, indeed, although there is occasional mean behavior in the plot, it’s never mean spirited. Zach noted, “I think Mike Judge strikes that delicate imbalance where he makes fun of people, and the characters are certainly like ridiculous a lot of the times, but he doesn’t dehumanize them.”
Woods makes a great point. There’s a really fine line between snarky and mean-spirited. And part of Silicon Valley’s appeal is that it’s definitely snarky, and sometimes the characters (unsurprisingly for some, and more surprisingly for others) are jerks, but they never really cross that line. Woods noted, “On a show where everyone is despicable — if you can’t empathize with the characters — I think it’s harder to be funny long term, I guess. What makes Mike great is that I feel like he’s always both super funny, kind of cutting, but also not cruel.”
On the show, Woods plays “a guy who works for Google-esque company (Huli), and he defects from that to the startup. Jared’s fired-up by their passion and gives up his job to join them.” Jared gives up a secure job as assistant to the CEO for the vagabond life of this little startup. Of all the characters on the show, Woods’ Jared seems the most put together–at least on the outside. He comes from a corporate environment, and is solicitous to an extreme degree. Perhaps it’s a remnant of his years living in the shadow of his mega-star former boss.