Genre: TV (comedy)
Premise: A group of young struggling tech entrepreneurs find their fortunes turned upside-down when one of them hits on a genius new way to compress data.
About: Spearheaded by one of the funniest writers ever, Mike Judge, “Silicon Valley” is the latest half-hour show coming to HBO. Co-writers Dave Krinsky and John Altschuler worked with Judge before on King of the Hill, and also penned the 2007 Will Ferrell comedy, Blades of Glory. The two also have a comedy with Steve Carell called Brigadier Gerard about a horseman during the Napoleanic wars. Keeping a busy schedule, they’re also eating their spinach in order to write Popeye for Sony.
Writers: Mike Judge, John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky
Details: 38 pages – undated

Mike-JudgeMike Judge

There are a few people out there who have created movies so good, they get a lifetime pass with me. That means I will read anything or watch anything they do, no matter how many missteps they make. Mike Judge is one of those people. I love Office Space so much that he could make a movie about old women knitting and I would camp outside the movie theater the day before the movie came out, wearing an old woman costume and carrying an industrial-sized ball of yarn.

Truth be told, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Idiocracy or Extract. They had their moments, and Judge still stuffed some funny characters in each, but it was the structure that doomed them. I don’t think that’s his specialty. Especially with Extract, which peaked at the midpoint then stumbled to the finished line.

Luckily, TV isn’t about plot so much as character. So it fits him well. I mean, I’m not even a fan of trailer trash humor, but I’ve probably seen half of all the King of the Hill episodes because every other episode there’d be at least one thing that would put you on the floor laughing.

So just like Jar Jar has a life debt with Qui-Gon, I have a life debt with Mike Judge. Let’s see what’s going on in this genius’s head.

20-something Thomas has been couch-surfing at one of the many “tech frat” houses that dot Silicon Valley. You know what I’m talking about – the kind of place where Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake partied in the movie, The Social Network.

But, unlike Mark Zuckerberg, Thomas isn’t doing so hot. The owner of the house, a mildly successful “White Urkel” named Erlich, has told him that unless he can start paying rent, he’s out on the street. And out on the street for Thomas means going back to St. Louis and giving up on his Silicon Valley dream.

Thomas’s friends in the house include a young Indian guy who loves Rugby, a black guy who still wears braces, an Asian guy who can’t say anything without swearing 7 times, and a dude named “Big Head,” who, rather unsurprisingly, has a big head. All these guys are rooting for Thomas to figure it out, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Well, not so fast. After a series of fortuitous events, Thomas’s app (a music app that cross checks your music against other artists’ music to see if you’re stealing from them) ends up in the hands of two of the biggest billionaires in Silicon Valley. But not for the app’s original purpose (upon which everyone agrees sucks, except Thomas). Rather, his app cuts down a song’s default file size by half!

All of a sudden, Thomas is being offered 30 million dollars from one billionaire and the opportunity to grow a gargantuan company from another. In both cases, though, neither man seems to care about what Thomas wants most – to change the world. So he does the unexpected. He turns down both men, joins his buddies, and starts a new company of his own.

My first impression of Silicon Valley was… where’s Mike Judge???

I was having a hard time seeing his voice here. Judge is known for creating really out-there hilarious characters. Yet all the characters here are standard. Not necessarily cliché (I’m not sure I’ve seen a non-stop swearing Taiwanese character before) but bland.

If you look at Office Space, soooooo many of those characters stood out. There isn’t a single character who stood out here. And what’s weird is that it doesn’t even seem like they were trying to make them stand out. Where was the irony (a straight-laced white guy who loved rap)? The unique dialogue quirks (“Ummm, yeahhhhh”)? The strange obsessions (a weirdo who’s in love with a stapler)? The wacky mannerisms (The stapler guy always talking in whispers and mumbles)? There was absolutely NONE of that here.

This leads me to believe that Altschuler and Krinsky probably did most of the writing here. I’m also basing this on the fact that Silicon Valley focuses on the one thing Judge is uninterested in, plot. The pilot here is very plot-centric and almost set up like a movie. Our main character has a goal (figure out how to sell his app), stakes (if he doesn’t, he’s kicked out of the house) and urgency (he’s got until the end of the month to do it).

Now, you know how much I like my GSU but something’s off here. The script was so constricted trying to hit all the plot beats, that it could never stop to breathe or have fun. Maybe it’s because they only had 30 minutes to fit the story into and therefore HAD to structure it tightly. But in this case, it felt like it sucked all the creativity out of the situations and the characters.

I was also a little confused by our main character’s purpose. Thomas is a very idealistic person, always saying that he came to Silicon Valley to “change the world,” not make money. That ideology even determines the course of the show, as he turns down money and fame to “change the world” with his friends. But how is he changing the world with a music app?

Yeah, I know the app helps musicians, but that’s a far cry from “changing the world.” This reminded me of a common problem writers run into. They come up with a plot solution that solves a big problem, but it doesn’t gel correctly with the other aspects of their story. This Trojan-horse music app solution solves a key plot problem. It gives our main character a legitimate sounding “failed” idea that can later turn into a believable “big” idea. But it does so at the cost of not matching up with our main character’s ideology.

The writer then faces a challenge. Does he reconstruct the plot point to better fit the character (which, if he wants to make it good, is going to take a long time)? Or does he leave it that way and fudge the difference? Most writers pick the latter because… well, because it’s easier.

The thing is, the latter never works. If you’re hearing that little voice in your head telling you, “This isn’t working. I need to fix it,” that voice is right 99.9% of the time. If you see it, readers will see it. It sucks, having to rewrite something that’s clever and smart and took you a long time to come up with. But I’ve said this before and I’ll say it forever: Nobody ever said screenwriting was easy.

I realize I sound like a frenzied stock broker screaming, “Sell sell sell!” today but Silicon Valley isn’t a bad script. It’s just not exceptional. It needed more quirks, more interesting characters, and it needed to have more fun. I did wonder a couple of times, however, if I misread the tone. There’s a chance that the reason there aren’t a ton of laughs here is because this is positioned as a dramedy as opposed to a comedy. If that’s the case, then I came in with the wrong expectations, which obviously affected my opinion. I guess we won’t find out until the show hits the air. And because it’s Judge, I’ll be there to find out.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: One thing I learned here is that if your plot and structure are too tight, they begin to constrict the flow of the story. And that can be deadly for a comedy, which needs to feel fun. So when you’re writing comedy, yes, make sure the structure is in place, but also know that it’s okay to let your characters loose here and there, to let a scene flow, to not only be consumed with plot exposition and hitting all your beats.

What I learned 2: Four qualities that make your characters funnier are a) irony b) mannerisms c) obsessions and d) dialogue quirks/phrases.

  • Mike.H

    Okay, so I’ll be the first to comment due to insomnia, it’s 1:30 am.

    The log lines seem lame and sputtering lethargic. Seems to me in 7-10 episodes, it’d fall flat to D.O.A. territory. Sorry, I haven’t read the pilot, just a gut feel.

    Sidenote: Can someone explain how Parks & Recreation lasted so long with horrendous ratings all these years, avg viewership per week 3.2Million??? Were they holding out for syndication for DVD bungles? Sleep time.

    • Andrew Orillion

      Because it’s on NBC and their ratings are so in the toilet that Parks and Rec is a hit for them. NBC went from being the jewel in the crown of network TV with shows like “Seinfeld”, “Cheers” and “Hill Street Blues” to a network whose only hits are “The Voice” and “The Biggest Loser”.

      • A Tribe Called Guest

        ^^Dis guy knows what hez talkin’ ’bout.

      • drifting in space

        Parks and Rec has had its moments but it seems to valley more than peak. This season is a total loss.

        • Matty

          Huge fan of the show, but this season is a big disappointment thus far. All the other seasons (aside from the first) were consistently really good.

          • drifting in space

            I’ve really loved it, it’s mostly been the end of last season and this season that have brought it down. They strayed away from the fun characters they created and it became too… I don’t know… real?

      • Matty

        NBC is shit. They do make “Hannibal” though which I think is one of the best dramas on TV, but that was BARELY renewed. Got by on the skin of its teeth, but damn, was that first season amazing.

        • Andrew Orillion

          Hannibal is a really good show and it’s getting a lot of buzz so it may do better this year. The only thing that saved it is that’s it’s produced through a co-financing deal with a German company so it cost NBC very little to air the show. Other wise it would have been cancelled.

  • Andrew Orillion

    I read this pilot last year and wasn’t surprised it didn’t sell. You hit the nail on the head when said it’s bland. I remember reading it but could only remember one joke, the guy making the app that would tell you when a woman nearby had her nipples showing.

    There’s not much to say about this script, it was almost completely unmemorable.

    If HBO is going with this show, I would have to imagine they’re doing a different pilot. It’s not uncommon for a script or even a full shot pilot to be changed. The original pilot for “Big Bang Theory” tested very poorly and the show was completely rewritten. This year, “Super Fun Night” aired a different pilot from the one I read. They shouldn’t have, the pilot they aired was awful and the show is headed for cancellation.

  • carsonreeves1

    thank you. :)

    • Panos Tsapanidis

      Wow… They’ve even down-voted Carson’s ‘thank you.” AND his smiley face. Carson, someone’s after you. Better change those passwords more frequently.

      • Alex Palmer

        Being a Troll used to be a noble profession. Lurking under bridges and terrorizing villages was an art form onto itself. Now they just sit around in their pyjamas, down-voting things .

    • Mike.H

      On my current script, it’s so difficult, it’s kicking my rump every day.

  • Citizen M

    What I learned from Charlie Chaplin that makes your character funny: If your character sees himself totally differently from the way you see him.

    You see him as a raggedy old tramp, a loser in life, perpetually running from policemen. He sees himself as a poet and a ballet dancer, warm-hearted and kind, temporarily down but cheerfully alive in a world full of opportunities if you are quick and smart enough, with one foot permanently on the bottom rung of the ladder of success (and the other, alas, on a banana peel).

  • A Tribe Called Guest

    There was a big call in the industry for Silicon Valley scripts after The Social Network came out. That’s why stuff like Betas and some other shows are popping up now.

    Good review, Carson, and I’ve got a life debt with Judge as well. Dude’s a genius.

  • Cfrancis1

    I LOVE Mike Judge. Idiocracy may not be the best movie but it’s damn funny and relevant. Apparently he had no money to finish the film which is probably why it feels rushed at the end. But I don’t care. So many great moments. Of course, Office Space is a modern classic. Too funny.

  • ximan

    “If you’re hearing that little voice in your head telling you, “This isn’t working. I need to fix it,” that voice is right 99.9% of the time.”

    Amen, and amen.

  • gazrow

    “Thomas is being offered 30 million dollars from one billionaire and the
    opportunity to grow a gargantuan company from another. In both cases,
    though, neither man seems to care about what Thomas wants most – to
    change the world. So he does the unexpected. He turns down both men,
    joins his buddies, and starts a new company of his own.”

    Talk about flawed logic!! Pretty sure it would be easier and quicker to attempt to change the world with 30 million dollars in your back pocket than um… start a new company?!

    • gazrow

      To the sad person down voting everyone’s comments, I just down voted my own post and beat you too it!! Ha!

      • gazrow

        Dammit! Where’s my down vote gone?!

        • drifting in space

          I down-voted you, sucka!

          • gazrow

            I just down voted you back, sucka! lol

          • drifting in space

            Oh, hells naw. It’s on. (except it’s not)

          • garrett_h

            I downvoted BOTH of you!!!

          • Alex Palmer

            Two can play at that game, sir!

          • drifting in space

            Aw, you can’t up and down vote at the same time. I am neutral voting you!

            EDIT: Guess I am up-voting you. Sunnuvab^$%.

          • gazrow

            And I just up voted you for down voting me!!! Ha!

          • Guest90210

            would gazrow, garret, drifting and alex report to the goddamn principal’s office!

      • Alex Palmer

        So much can change in an hour….

      • Matty

        I think this person is pretty funny. Whoever they are. One day I’ll get to tell kids about life before the internets, when we had to talk shit to people’s faces. The world was nicer when people didn’t hide behind computer screens.

    • Alex Palmer

      So much can change in an hour…

  • drifting in space

    The Social Network was good. The Big Bang Theory makes me wanna gouge my eyes out. I will, for the life of me, never understand why that show is popular.

    • Matty

      That show is popular – and the only real reason that it’s as popular as it is, maybe the biggest reason it’s still airing – is because of Jim Parsons (Sheldon). His acting is effing brilliant. Just plain some of the best acting I have ever seen in a TV comedy, sitcom or otherwise.

      • drifting in space

        That’s so strange, he’s one of the main reasons I don’t like the show. That and Penny is a little too dumb to be realistic. It does have its moments, though.

        • Matty

          Oh, I know many people who don’t watch the show because they find him annoying. BUT, the other people I know absolutely love him (myself included). Either way I think it’s hard to deny he has created a unique character and totally mastered his mannerisms, speech, physicality, and timing. Even though that character may annoy you, as it does many people.

          • drifting in space

            That’s totally true. The character is definitely unique. It’s to the point where he will only be able to play THAT character because he does it so well. Probably why he drives me nuts.

        • Panos Tsapanidis

          “It does have its moments” And Penny has her breasts. :D

      • Panos Tsapanidis

        Hmmm…No one down-voted you. Maybe it’s Jim Parsons who’s down-voting every comment.

        • Matty

          Don’t worry, it’s coming. The guy just had to go upstairs for a few minutes because lunch was ready. His mom made grilled cheese today.

    • fragglewriter

      Besides being popular because of Sheldon, it’s the content, science. Now, I’m no expert in the subject except for the 2 required courses that were part of my major (Psychology), but I love that show because it makes jokes in reference to comics, sci-fi, science and psychology. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it hilarious whenever I watch the show.

      I was interviewed by an HR recruiter whose mannerism was just like Sheldon. Watching this mannerism from afar is hilarious. In-person, quite annoying that I wanted to curse the person during my interview.

  • drifting in space

    Office Space and Idiocracy are some of my favorite movies. Beavis and Butthead is a classic. I agree, Mike Judge gets a lifetime pass for me as well.

    I get the feeling TV is soon going to be saturated with all of these people trying to cash in on the dotcom era and they will all collectively flounder.

    Sure, there was drama with all of these stories but the reality is, most of it was just late nights, hard work, and staring at a screen. Even the Social Network is highly dramatized for thematic purposes.

    • klmn

      Who wouldn’t enjoy a game of frog baseball?

  • ripleyy

    Ah, jeez, Judge is a hit-or-miss for me. I’m also getting sort of bummed-out with all of these “Silicon Valley” pilots, like “Halt & Catch Fire” that AMC is developing.

    I found Idiocracy funny but he’s just such a hit-or-miss for my liking. The story seems far from interesting and a little bland for my taste.

    That being said, I absolutely agree on the second “What I Learned”. The best way to make a funny character is by applying one or all those things. Writing comedy isn’t hard. You just have to be a little nuts as a writer to pull it off.

    • fragglewriter

      I so agree with this cause a sane person cannot fathom that a little edge goes a long way in movies.

      Office Space has edge at the end when the company was set on fire LOL

  • Poe_Serling

    Mike Judge’s features are kind of a hit-or-miss proposition for me. On the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed his TV series King of the Hill. A couple of reasons why I think that show clicked in my opinion: all the characters had such distinct/wonderful personalities and their somewhat wacky situations always seemed to be grounded in a bit of reality.

    My favorite episode by far:

    “Sug Night”

    Hank is shaken after having a dream about grilling burgers…naked…with Nancy. And the situation is stirred when Peggy finds out.

  • J.R.

    The asian character from The Hangover might not be Taiwanese but it’s pretty damned close to what they are doing here.

  • fragglewriter

    Does the four qualities have to apply to every character in your script or just the protagonist/antagonist? I ask this question is that I have qualities for each character, but they might not hit on all 4, maybe 3.

    • ripleyy

      It depends on what you’re writing and what you feel works. You also don’t need to apply all four to one character, unless you feel that it suits it. One thing you don’t want to do is over-saturate it.

      • fragglewriter

        Got it. Thanks :-)

  • garrett_h

    I kinda liked this one back when I read it a few months ago. Then again, I know some code, my brother is a programmer, and I’m a huge fan of Mike Judge. So it’s in my wheelhouse.

    I kinda agree with Carson’s point. The characters weren’t as good as others Judge has created. But think about it. Those are all CLASSIC characters. It’s kinda hard to strike lightning twice, I suppose.

    I still thought there were some solid characters though. Thomas comes off as the Jason Bateman everyman guy, so he’s pretty stock by design. But I thought the rich company owners were entertaining. And even his friends were pretty interesting. Of course, it’d be up to the actors to make them come alive. And I think they have a good starting point.

    My only thing is, where does the show go from here? Take another HBO comedy, Eastbound & Down, which I’m a fan of. Danny McBride’s goal in the Pilot is clearly laid out: get to the pros. Here, we end with starting a company? Then what? Cause he just turned down selling his app, which I thought was going to be the season goal. But that’s not it.

    So that needs some work, but I think the foundation is there. We’ll see what happens with it.

  • WB

    After thinking about Carson’s criticism of the disconnect between the protag wanting to “change the world” but instead focusing on a music app, maybe an easier rewrite would be to have him want to be a musician/be in the music world, but commerce and big business keep rearing their ugly heads. That way, it’s still kind of idealistic (I just want to make art) but jibes with the already existing (and therefore hard to rewrite) crux of the story (the music app that sets the plot in motion).

  • Citizen M

    The scrunt* strikes again.

    *scriptshadow c#nt

    • Guest90210

      That is a very fitting name. It more suits this creature than the one in Night’s movie, I think.

  • Montana Gillis

    It’s the Christmas Season! No, really. Mrs. Montana has Christmas themed movies playing on the Hallmark Channel. As I read this script, i started thinking it would be more entertaining to be watching the Hallmark channel than continue… Say, has anyone else seen “The dog that saved Christmas”? SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT!!!!! The dog really does save Christmas.