'Silicon Valley'
'Silicon Valley'

The characters in Mike Judge’s new HBO comedy “Silicon Valley” may have little idea how to get their tech startup off the ground and running, but they certainly have what it takes to be at the center of a smart, laugh-out-loud series that could emerge as one of the strongest shows of 2014.

Thomas Middleditch stars as the lanky, softvoiced Richard, a classic Silicon Valley nerd with brains aplenty and little in the way of business smarts or hard-assed assertiveness. This proves a problem when, in the tightly structured pilot, he realizes a music compression algorithm he’s created could be the foundation for a multi-billion dollar company.

Before he knows it he’s got two billionaires trying to outbid him -- one is his boss at the hilariously named Hooli, throwing figures Richard’s way in the $10 million range, and the other is a venture capitalist, Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), who has a penchant for spouting a “drop out of college” mantra at TED talks. Gregory offers Richard a modest $200K, but with the tempting offer that he can keep and build up his company.

Silicon Valley

Now, if Richard were the type to take the $10 million and run, there wouldn’t be much need for a show. So he jumps down the rabbit hole of startups, armed with his $200K (which he doesn’t know how to deposit) and his motley roommates as partners.

These include comedian T.J. Miller (as a blowhard who pushes his paunch around, as well as his 10% ownership of the company), Kumail Nanjiani (also a comedian) and Martin Starr as awkwardly arrogant programmers, and Josh Brenner as Richard’s best friend who may or may not have a unique enough talent to warrant getting a partnership cut. There’s also Zach Woods, as a pale and obsequious MBA-grad type who helps get the “business” aspect of their would-be business in shape.

Where the show excels is its skillful set up of a number of plot elements certain to have juicy ramifications, while also giving us a dead-on skewering of the Valley. Hooli boss Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) has a new-age spiritual adviser who, when asked to sit down, replies calmly he “isn’t sitting this summer.” Gregory drives around in a smart car the width of a laptop. Miller’s character wears a t-shirt reading “I Know HTML (How To Meet Ladies).” And the visual gags and pleasantly bizarre dialogue go on from there.

To that end, co-creator Judge is tapping into his “Office Space” sweet spot with “Silicon Valley”: Establishing a setting rife with broad satire (which, in other hands, could be too broad) but grounding it with relatable characters who react to the ridiculousness around them, without getting too meta and “cleverly” commenting on it.

And it's a very close second to “Veep” as HBO’s funniest series (high praise coming from a “Veep” head). All in all user-friendly.

"Silicon Valley" debuts on HBO April 6. Trailer and review roundup after the jump.