Lost amid the obsessional writing (and watching) of HBO hits like "Game of Thrones" and "Girls," another show, "Silicon Valley," has been quietly growing a devoted audience — including me. The premise is simple: a group of young computer-company employees sharing a house in Silicon Valley are working their day jobs and spending the rest of their time coming up with the Next Big Thing in computing. The series follows their often-precarious rise via a new company founded by one of the guys in the house. Sounds hilarious, right? (If you said no, I get it — I wasn't expecting the show to be as laugh-out-loud funny as it definitely is.)
While Nerds, Dorks and even Dweebs aren't quite as socially outcast as they were in the celebrate-the-jocks days when the film "Revenge of the Nerds" hit theaters, this is still not a show about the beautiful people. It's about the guys (and yes, it's almost all guys, as most of Silicon Valley really is, unfortunately) who are behind this generation's California Gold Rush — but these fellows are really, really smart in a certain kind of way, not just random adventurous souls who sign up to pan for gold. (They have more to lose, in my mind.) They are awkward, they are unsure, they are nervous — even about the things they are good at, so you can guess how they behave when they are in situations unfamiliar to them (turn the cringe-meter up to 11 when watching most episodes).
But besides being a unique and entertaining workplace comedy, the other thing that Silicon Valley does so beautifully (and kind of under-the-radar) is show how working in technology can be exciting, totally all-consuming, and even fun. I can't think of another show on TV that shows a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career and makes it look truly interesting. (OK, with the exception of the crime-scene investigators on various cop-and-courtroom shows.) It's incredibly refreshing to see people doing work that isn't flashy and/or violent — police/military/spies, or models/actors/presidents — that's still engaging, competitive and exciting.
Want an example? Check out the hilarious sequence when the guys use math and a whiteboard to figure out a problem that has to do with ... well it's a penis joke, but one that is solved with calculus. I'm linking here to a clip that is NSFW, but it is one of the funniest uses of math on TV I've ever seen — it had me rolling around on the floor, crying tears of laughter. The next scene includes how the show's hero solves a giant computing problem using the seed of the idea that's planted while that joke is being solved by his friends. It's that kind of show. Complex, weird, cliff-hangery and dramatic — with off-color jokes too.
Because the truth is, for any of us who have been in a lab or out in the field during discovery (or confirmation of a theory), or have re-engineered a piece of equipment, or built something new, that STEM jobs are often truly fun, really creative, and just as rewarding as catching the bad guy or winning the part.
There's plenty more to like about Silicon Valley and the ideas it explores: The dark awfulness of idea stealing in a creative economy; the power of the few (always deeply weird) guys at the top of the tech world; how every tech company says its new product is designed to "save the world" but none of them do much for anyone but the founders; the strangeness of a place where men outnumber women to such a degree; the insane drive to do something new; the people who are, through no fault of their own, left out.
Oh yeah, and I did I mention the acting is pretty great too?
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