Mike Judge Q&A: Is 'Silicon Valley' pay cable's 'Big Bang Theory'?

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Mike Judge’s new HBO comedy series Silicon Valley could be described as Office Space meets The Social Network. The show debuting April 6 follows a group of programmers who start their own company amid the NorCal tech-campus playgrounds. Judge (King of the Hill, Beavis and Butt-Head) sat down with EW at the South by Southwest film festival just a few hours before Silicon Valley has its world premiere screening.  

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The biggest comedy on TV is about a group of ultra-brainy socially awkward guys — Big Bang Theory. Did that occur to you at all, that this would appeal in a more R-rated way?
Judge: I hadn’t seen that show. I had heard about it, I watched a little bit of it, it seemed really funny. I guess they are limited by being on a network. Yeah, I hope it appeals to people who like that because we can do anything and do and get into all kinds of stuff you can’t do on a network show. And also there’s more of a series-arc to it. I hope so. I don’t ever approach things trying to push boundaries or be edgy, I just like the characters and story and whatever comes out of it. But what happens sometimes is you say, that sucks, we can’t do something because of the network. In the third episode, TJ’s character needs to come up with a new name for the company so he goes out into the desert and takes hallucinogenic drugs and starts riffing. It’s a really fun scene and you couldn’t do that on network. You can let the story go wherever you want.

It’s also refreshing to see a pay-cable comedy that’s actually funny. So many of the half-hour shows on HBO and Showtime — more Showtime — seem to not really care whether they’re funny or not.
Judge: I haven’t seen many of them, but it’s almost like they think since they’re on premium cable so they have to be dark and depressing.

I have lots of love for Office Space. This feels like the closest thing we’ll have to a spiritual sequel to the film, it has a little of that feel.
Judge
: Yeah, I think it does, those characters in Office Space, the three main guys were programmers. Even though Office Space came out in 1999, it was sort of set in ’88 for me because that’s when I worked in that world. And the tech world was so different then. What’s different now is that to start your own company the barrier to entry was a lot higher. Now a group of smart people can make an app without having to spend a lot of money, you can finance a company for $80,000 and pay some programmers.

How else has Silicon Valley changed?
Judge: In a lot of ways it’s very much the same. But there are a lot more renegade people going off the reservation and starting their own crazy thing that could get you rich or make you broke.

There’s a few Steve Jobs jokes in the show, what’s your take on him?
Judge: I remember there was some interview with Bill Gates where he said Steve Jobs didn’t even write code. Like, who cares? But it’s interesting to me. I knew a lot of programmers like that. I got recognized by a programmer at a start-up while at a bar, he was really drunk. At some point I said something about Bill Gates and he goes, “Bill Gates was a poseur!” That’s where I got that line. So many programmer types don’t understand people and Steve Jobs did. He was the bridge between programmer types who would never make anything user friendly and [consumers].

Have you gotten any ideas for the show here at South by Southwest during the Interactive portion?
Judge: I haven’t been here long enough. But being around it confirms we’re on the right track. You see the overall vibe.

Did you see the story about the social media app for drunk people that was a hoax? It made me think of your show because it feels like we’ve reached a point where technology and parody of technology have become almost indistinguishable.
Judge: Yeah I suppose it’s driven by the billions of dollars people are making. It’s a gold rush of people trying to come up with apps and ideas. There ought to be a lot of hoaxes. Actually, funny you say that, we did the pilot a year ago and it’s happened more than once where something we did, something like it happens and people will think we based it on that. One of the things we have in the first couple episodes is this “Nip Alert” app, and then at the TechCrunch Hackathon these guys came up with an app called “Titstare” which got in the news, because the tech world is so dominated by men and misogynistic asshole types I guess.

Also, there’s that Moore’s Law, which says processing power will double every two years. We’re getting to the point where instead of innovations coming along every once in awhile, we’re constantly seeing new things pop up that we didn’t know were actually possible. It becomes almost humorous.
Judge: Yeah, I got my degree in physics but took programming classes. When you start to understand how a computer works and digital video and audio, you can see how the only limitations are processing speed, the speed you can transmit it and just the amount of time it takes to write all the code. But even back then you could see how it’s just going to keep going.

I was thinking the other day about how few animated programs have been successful on broadcast prime-time since King of the HillBob’s Burgers is doing a steady number — but pretty much it’s the same shows year after year. Why do you think it’s so difficult to find a new successor to long-running hits like The Simpsons or Family Guy?
Judge: When I see a new animated show I get bored really quickly. To me it’s always because the character doesn’t pop in a way where the looks and the voice come together in a way that comes alive. I’ve seen in the development process the network hire funny writers, an animation company and then get a famous person to do the voice. People sitting at home don’t go, “Oh that’s so cool a famous person does the voice.” You almost don’t want to know, it’s distracting. If South Park had gone through the development process … they would not pick Trey Parker and Matt Stone to do the voices or to draw it. I can’t think of an animated show working that came out of that development process.

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