Last week, Palmer Luckey, described as a 21-year-old baby-faced college dropout, sold his company Oculus VR — the maker of a virtual reality headset — to Facebook in a reported $2 billion deal.
He sounds like a character on the new HBO comedy “Silicon Valley,” co-created by Mike Judge (“Office Space,” “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill”) and Alec Berg of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Actually, Luckey, a Long Beach native, is part of Southern California’s own burgeoning tech scene. But Oculus was bought by Mark Zuckerberg, the 29-year-old founder of Facebook, which is located in Menlo Park, part of the modern-day gold rush that is Silicon Valley.
The new series, which debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday following “Game of Thrones,” stars Thomas Middleditch (“The Office”) as Richard, a timid programmer who is creating a music site that no one is enthusiastic about. Erlich (T.J. Miller), who after having sold his own small start-up has given Richard and some others a small stake to create their products, wonders why Richard is not creating something like NipAlert (use your imagination).
Being in a town populated by nerdy millionaires and billionaires, especially when you are just a nerdy wannabe like Richard, is no fun. The show opens with the programmer and his buddies at a party thrown by one of the newly minted nouveau riche techies. Well, party is an overstatement. These guys need an app to tell them how to have fun. Even Kid Rock, brought in to entertain, can’t get them to rock.
Everyone, instead, is obsessed with money.
“Kid Rock is the poorest person here, apart from you guys,” Erlich tells Richard and his friends.
Yet when the party’s host gets up to boast about his company’s success, he also has to add that they are doing all of this to help mankind.
“It’s not enough that they just make billions of dollars,” says Judge, who was an engineer in Silicon Valley in the late ’80s. “They also have to say they’re saving the world in all kinds of ways, and that’s just kind of funny.”
Judge thinks because nearby San Francisco was where the hippie movement started, the Silicon Valley rich feel they “have to shroud their capitalism with this we’re-making-the-world-a-better-place thing, which is kind of a running theme.”
“While these guys are fundamentally changing the world, it’s not entirely altruistic,” says Berg, who also worked on “Seinfeld.” “So it’s hard to listen to a guy who has made $7 billion talking about how he’s doing it for the love of humanity.”
Socially inept like those who have made it, Richard, as it turns out, doesn’t realize what he has. Inside his site, he has created an amazing algorithm that could revolutionize the computing industry. When others discover it, that puts him in the middle of a bidding war between Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), the owner of tech giant Hooli and something of a cult figure who wants to buy it outright, and eccentric billionaire venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch, who passed away during filming), who wants to fund it for a small percentage, allowing Richard to keep most of his company.
Judge, who was a test engineer and got a degree in physics, understands that some people may find Silicon Valley — both the place and the show — a little foreign, and he even felt a bit of culture shock when he went back, seeing billboards touting things like multi-platform integration.
“I guess most people driving down the freeway there understand, but most people in America wouldn’t,” he said.
But “Silicon Valley” keeps the jargon to a minimum. Berg says sometimes they “put all the technical stuff” into the dialogue and then pare it down while shooting, relying on experts to help them decide what to keep. “Sometimes, it’s like there are 35 words here and I don’t understand what any of them mean. What are the four or five that we absolutely have to have to convey what we’re conveying, and not make this just gibberish?”
Geek worlds are hit and miss on TV, “The Big Bang Theory” being the biggest success, with the idea keying on that nerds are funny. But “Silicon Valley” is aiming deeper, and there is plenty to satirize there.
As the high-tech world’s influence grows more invasive, people are growing concerned about it. Dave Eggers’ latest darkly comic novel, “The Circle,” for instance, digs into how huge tech firms such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon affect privacy.
“The technology that these guys are cranking out is staggeringly amazing, but how much does it affect our lives? Massively,” says Berg. “It’s hard to say that what they’re doing is bad, and we should dump on it. But at the same time, anyone who takes themselves too seriously and becomes full of themselves is ripe for a kicking.”
What: New comedy about life in modern-day Silicon Valley.
When: 10 p.m. Sunday.
Follow Rob Lowman on Twitter: @roblowman1