Make ‘em laugh

The sitcom ‘Silicon Valley’ and the docu ‘Fantastisch’ span the spectrum of comedy.

The sitcom ‘Silicon Valley’ and the docu ‘Fantastisch’ span the spectrum of comedy (photo credit: Courtesy)
The sitcom ‘Silicon Valley’ and the docu ‘Fantastisch’ span the spectrum of comedy
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There hasn’t been enough really smart comedy writing on television since 30 Rock went off the air in January 2013, so it’s a relief that a new show has stepped in to fill that void: HBO’s Silicon Valley, which airs on YES Oh on Wednesdays at 10 and is available on YES VOD.
It’s an insider’s satire of the corporate culture in the US tech industry, and if that doesn’t sound like a promising idea for a new series, just start watching. You’ll see that the modern-day gold rush of Silicon Valley is extremely fertile ground for comedy. The series was created by Mike Judge, who made the cult comedy classic Office Space about the tech industry in the 1990s. Judge actually worked in tech and knows what he’s spoofing. I occasionally moonlight in Israel’s Silicon Wadi, and although the corporate culture here is not quite as over the top as what is shown on the series, there are enough parallels that I feel comfortable saying that Silicon Valley feels very authentic.
The plot revolves around Richard (Thomas Middleditch, who is more than believable as a nerd, and oddly charming) and his friends and housemates, who toil at a company called Hooli and try to come up with the next big thing in their spare time.
The cost of living in the area is so high that they have moved to an Incubator house owned by Erlich (T.J. Miller), who lets them stay rent-free in exchange for 10 percent of anything they develop there. At night, these socially maladjusted but brilliant guys go to lavish parties where the dress is casual chic but nearly everyone but our heroes seems to be an overnight billionaire. These billionaires soothe their consciences, if they have any, by spouting inane rhetoric along the lines of “We can only achieve greatness if first we achieve goodness.”
Richard and a friend attend a TED Talk given by mogul Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch, who died of cancer after filming the series’ third episode), who urges students to drop out of college to pursue their tech dreams (“College has become a cruel and expensive joke on the poor and the middle class . . . [It’s] a system that churns out unemployed debtors,” he says). Richard corners him afterwards, before Gregory drives off in the narrowest car in the world (a great visual joke), and pitches his idea for Pied Piper, an app that will let musicians check whether their music is too similar to previously published songs. Gregory agrees to look at it and then discovers that there is a hidden gem inside it – a compression algorithm much faster than anything out there. The head of Hooli, Gavin Belson (Matt Ross, who played Alby on Big Love), gets wind of it as well, and both he and Gregory make Richard offers. But he can’t decide which one to refuse. Belson offers him $10 million to buy the app outright, while Gregory will give him $200,000 and allow him to keep 95% of his company. It’s a very modern dilemma, and it makes Richard sick.
However, the Palo Alto doctor he runs to consoles him – he sees guys dealing with this every day – and then pitches his own medical app to Richard.
Even if you’re not familiar with the tech business, the satire is sharp and the dialogue is brilliant and fast-paced enough to keep anyone interested.
In another vein, Fantastisch is a documentary about a 100-year-old street entertainer and clown, which will air on Channel 10 on May 10 at 11 p.m. Directed by Ofra Sarel-Koren, the film is a portrait of Shmulik Lesched, who decided at the age of 55 to devote himself to making people laugh. The alternately comic and sad film follows the often chaotic life of this entertainer, who continues to travel Israel and the world to perform, and the relationship between him and his Russian-born caregiver. It’s an unusual film about an unusual man.