The creator of Beavis And Butt-head tackles life in Silicon Valley.
It seems a little odd that director-writer Mike Judge is doing a comedy series about citizens of Silicon Valley in California, which is home to many technology corporations as well as smaller start-ups.
Undeniably, Judge has influenced a generation (or two) with his biggest shows – he created and voiced MTV’s Beavis And Butt-head, wrote and directed the 1999 cult movie Office Space, and wrote and produced the animated series King Of The Hill.
So, creating, producing and writing a 30-minute show called Silicon Valley seems a little off for Judge.
Well, until you learn that Judge has a degree in physics and has lived in Silicon Valley for a little over a year working as a software engineer before venturing into showbusiness.
“I worked for a company that did automatic test systems for the F-18 that went on the carriers. And then my second job in Silicon Valley was with a company that made interfaces for the very first high-def screens. Then I worked for a company that made bass and guitar amps,” the 51-year-old American shared with reporters gathered at the sunny state of California earlier this year.
He had the idea to explore the occupants of the digital world as early as 1999 when he met with some of them to talk about an animation project.
Seated in a big meeting room at the HBO office in Santa Monica, which makes his already soft-spoken voice inaudible, Judge said: “It occurred to me that a lot of people like Paul Allen and Bill Gates, if they were born 200 years ago, they probably would have not been the richest people in the world. They would probably be navigational engineers or something.
“I knew so many of these programmers, having done it myself, seeing these types of personalities who in school were not the alpha males, and now they are the richest people in the world, but, who are still socially awkward. It’s such a good area for comedy. So I have been wanting to do that for awhile.”
Silicon Valley focuses on a group of computer programmers – played by Thomas Middleditch, Josh Brener, Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani – who found a start-up company called Pied Piper. They live in a house owned by a dotcom millionaire, Erlich (TJ Miller), for free, as long as he gets 10% stake in their projects.
In today’s Internet world, when you design the right programme or app, your earnings can shoot up to billions within weeks – Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Biz Stone (Twitter) can attest to this fact.
In the pilot episode, we see that one of the guys has written a compression programme which is able to deliver massive amounts of information without quality loss. Suddenly every big company wants a piece of his subroutine. What will these socially awkward nerds do? The first season answers that exact question.
To make sure that the series holds up to scrutiny, Judge and his team did a lot research and even got a tech consultant for the show. “We met with Stanford graduates who are experts on compression. I wanted to get this right because it just feels better writing if you are on solid footing. Either it has happened or it could happen, they’re based on real things. Everything on the background is accurate. We worked hard to make it accurate.”
While doing the research too, Alec Berg – who is also the executive producer, director and writer for the series, discovered something interesting.
Berg explained: “I think, when you’re doing something like this, the craziest stuff that you can think of is not half as crazy as the real stuff you’re finding, just in terms of the absurdities and the eccentricities.”
The satirical series is fast paced as it only has eight episodes for its first season. Judge was able to write the first season’s story arc in completion before shooting started.
“It’s kind of like writing one big movie, in a way. What was really great was we could plant something in one episode and have a payoff in another. It seems like this is the way TV is going, with fewer episodes.
If Beavis And Butt-head had just been 13 episodes a year, quality could’ve been (chuckles) ... the third of the series is really good, the rest of it is (shrugs). So it’s nice to keep a low episode count. It’s a luxury. But will he ever go back to these two teenagers who sit and watch TV all day sometime in the future.
“We did new episodes and it fared well. But I guess, MTV’s demographics is like 12-year-old girls. It got good ratings ... but I’m kind of trying to sell it to another network, and I haven’t.
“I’m just happy doing this one right now,” he said only to continue with a smile, “But I love doing (Beavis And Butt-head), if it came around again, I would.”
>> Silicon Valley premieres April 13 at 10pm on HBO Signature HD (Astro Ch 437).