A group of intelligent but frustrated programmers tired of working for "the man" take a big gamble to try to make it on their own terms. This premise may sound familiar to any fan of Mike Judge's 1999 cult hit Office Space, but it is also the basis for his new HBO comedy series Silicon Valley (Sunday, 10/9c, HBO).
"It actually didn't occur to me right away the parallels between this and Office Space," Judge tells TVGuide.com. "I've always been interested in just comedy about these personality types. ... It just seemed like an area that there would be a lot of comedy."
That's because, at least partly, Judge used to be one of "these" types. After graduating with Bachelor of Science in physics in 1986, the future Beavis and Butt-head creator moved up to Silicon Valley the following year to join a start-up video card company before leaving several months later. "It's just such an absurd world, you know, these introverted, odd people becoming extremely wealthy so that's what drew me to it," Judge says.
That concept is what drives Silicon Valley and its six programmer characters. In the pilot, the life of computer programmer Richard (Thomas Middleditch) is turned upside down when both his boss and a billionaire venture capitalist discover the huge untapped potential in his app and a bidding war ensues. "It's about the story of these introverted, awkward people going on this journey where the stakes are billions of dollars and two billionaires with scores to settle," Judge says. "It could build into a big company. It could not. People could sue each other. There's all kinds of real stuff that could happen in this world. A company can become valued at billions one day and then just completely be worthless the next day."
A big part of the series, Judge says, will also be the complicated relationships forged among Richard and his friends as they start to work together while also living together — a surprisingly common arrangement in Silicon Valley. "We started to realize the office workplace has actually been explored quite a bit and maybe it would be more interesting to look at the workplace of guys who have to live and work in the same place in the house," Judge says. "They're putting all their eggs in one basket. So we decided to go that route, so in that way, it's sort of a workplace comedy but it's a very different workplace than Office Space."
Judge says Silicon Valley actually resembles the job he had after he left his start-up job — when he became a bass player with a touring blues band. "You don't go home at the end of the day and get away from everybody. You're at home with everybody. It turns into a Band of Brothers-type thing with comedy," Judge says. "It makes for a different dynamic between these guys that they're just together 24 hours a day."
To do research for the series, Judge returned to his old stomping groups with a few of the show's other executive producers to get an insider's perspective. The group spent time with Judge's old friends and visited places like Google and the annual TechCrunch conference. "We really immersed ourselves," he says.
The trips were a wake-up call for Judge as to just how much things had changed — particularly that people were launching companies faster and getting richer quicker than ever before. "It's more of a gold rush now than it was."
For all of the show's complicated technological jargon and Silicon Valley-specific satire, it's this gold rush that Judge thinks will make viewers want to tune in and root for Richard and his team. "I think lots of people fantasize about leaving the safe world of their job and job security and going out on a limb and trying something, taking a risk. Even if they don't, it's fun to watch someone else take a risk and see how it goes," he says. "What would it have been like if I had just gone off and tried to start my own thing? And even what would it be like to fail at that or succeed at that? I think that's all pretty relatable stuff whether you're in the tech world or working in an accounting office."
Silicon Valley debuts Sunday at 10/9c on HBO.