There's a great scene in Mike Judge's 1999 cult classic Office Space in which a couple of working stiffs understimulated, put-upon cubicle dwellers kick the stuffing out of a printer while Geto Boys blasts in the background. The equally unlikely, similarly alienated heroes of Judge's terrific new comedy Silicon Valley are essentially their modern-day flip side but with sharper minds and insane earning potential. Welcome to a world where Kid Rock performs at a corporate event as uninterested nerds sip test tubes of $200-a-quart liquid shrimp and any female guest above a 7 has been paid to be there.
The anchor of the series is the easily overwhelmed Richard (played with beautiful awkwardness by Thomas Middleditch), who while living in a start-up incubator house with fellow coders unwittingly develops a game-changing compression algorithm. (I don't know what that is, which is why I'll never get a chance to shoot shrimp juice.) The poor boy, once just a cog in a Google-like tech company called Hooli, must decide whether to sell his invention for $10 million to his megalomaniacal boss Gavin Belson or steer his own ship with $200,000 in seed money from billionaire venture capitalist Peter Gregory.
Richard's potential mentors are among the show's many pleasures. Belson (Matt Ross) is the type of blowhard who believes his own self-righteous corporate prattle such as ''We can only achieve greatness if first we achieve goodness.'' Belson's nemesis is Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), a genius screwball whose flat, monotone voice makes him sound like a drowsy child just arisen from a nap.
There's so much money on the table and cultural absurdity to lampoon in this dotcom world. In one gem of a scene, Belson stands next to his spiritual adviser looking disdainfully down from his office window: ''They always travel in groups of five, these programmers. There's always a tall, skinny white guy; short, skinny Asian guy; fat guy with a ponytail; some guy with crazy facial hair; and then an East Indian guy. It's like they trade guys until they all have the right group.'' His guru nods approvingly. ''You clearly have a great understanding of humanity.''
But, as in Office Space, the heart of the show is watching Richard and his friends struggle to make sense of themselves and their purpose. They're good, weird guys you want to hang out with. My one wish is for some female characters to be as carefully and oddly drawn. We have Gregory's head of operations, Monica (Amanda Crew), who is a perfectly lovely voice of reason but who fails to serve a story purpose other than being ready for someone to fall in love with her. Richard would be lucky to have her, but we deserve better. A-