Silicon Valley and Veep review – fabulously funny, and finessed too

From the hi-tech comedy of Mike Judge's Silicon Valley to the wisecracking satire of Veep, the best, and funniest, of last night's TV was on Sky. Even if, like me, you didn't get all the references

You needed Sky for the best of last night's TV, I'm afraid. Most exciting: Silicon Valley (Sky Atlantic), brainchild of Beavis and Butthead's Mike Judge, a comedy about a bunch of techy geeks at a live-in startup business incubator in … well, it's obvious where.

Richard Hendriks and his equally shy, dweeby programmer mates shuffle awkwardly around the peripheries of the world they want in on. It's a world where the unglamorous can become glamorous (well rich) overnight, just by designing the right software. These are the new rock stars and they hire the old rock stars (actual rock stars, like Kid Rock) to play at their parties.

Then above them, you've got the new gurus, visionary tech billionaires such as Gavin Belson, CEO of Hooli (not unlike a certain search engine), and venture capitalist Peter Gregory. They drive around in tiny – and remarkably narrow – electric cars and hire the old gurus (actual gurus, from India) to remind them how wise they are and what a difference they are making to the world. There are nods – vigorous ones – to Gates, Jobs, Wozniak, Zuckerberg etc.

So Richard designs a music app, based on a data-compression algorithm, and suddenly everyone wants a piece of him. "Let's just make it ... let's make it happen," he tells the gang, because all the snappier slogans have already been snapped up and copyrighted by someone else around there.

Now I'm about as un-techy as they come; I'm sure there are loads of references and in-jokes that I missed. Hell, if I'm honest, I didn't even know that nine times f was pleventy-five. No matter though, because it's also a beautifully observed, beautifully performed (especially love TJ Miller as the incubator boss), beautifully written, extremely thorough lampooning of a world that was so ripe for it that a cloud of lampoon wasps was gathering over the entire Valley. And – crucially – it's very funny too, with the finesse you expect from an HBO production, more Entourage than The IT Crowd. Quite male for sure, but then I guess it's quite a male world. There are women around; but as one of them says, it's like a Hasidic wedding, they're not talking to the men. Well, would you?

Also fabulous: Veep (Sky Atlantic), but you already knew that. Or perhaps not; Armando Iannucci's joyously acidic (as opposed to Hasidic) White House satire, The Thick of It for them over there, hasn't caught fire over here as it deserves to. Possibly because of insular foreign affairs apathy, more likely because of who's showing it. If you have the means to get involved, do. It's rapid-fire smart with some of the best gags you'll hear on TV at the moment. Favourites from this episode, the first of season three? "Women at a wedding are like ripe fruit ready to drop and I am a sex wasp," from the Jonah. (FYI: a sex wasp is different to a lampoon wasp – same family, different species, OK?) And "Hendrix texting", which is texting behind your back, obviously. Of course, I tried. Quite hard actually.

Sky-free? Perhaps you saw The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway (BBC2). "Like undertaking open heart surgery on a patient while that patient is awake," says one chap. The patient: London. The operation: construction of Crossrail. So we're talking big numbers, big machines, big cranes, clay-eating monsters, hard hats, banter. But with a cast of extras, and extra stories as well – an auctioneer, a priest and the plaster ceiling he doesn't want to see come crashing down. Lovely, clear, simple graphics too. Who said tunnelling was boring? (Groan.)

Or Operation Cloud Lab (BBC2), about a group of scientists flying across America in an airship, weighing clouds, testing their latent heat. They try really hard, all the usual tricks – demonstrative enthusiasm from the scientists; big facts and more big numbers (129bn tonnes of water in the world's clouds at any one time); the inevitable big orchestral score. But I too drifted a little I'm afraid. I remember not really getting latent heat at school either. Interesting that cleaning up your act, environmentally speaking, could lead to more hurricanes though. And that airship pilots use a road atlas to get around.

Or possibly Talk to the Animals (BBC1) in which Lucy Cooke investigates animal communication. For some it's quite sophisticated. Mongooses can say who they are and what they're doing. "Lisa digging," says the one called Lisa. It's "social networking, mongoose-style", says Lucy. (Well, very old-school tweeting to be fair, I don't think anyone in Silicon Valley needs to worry). But as far as I can see, most of these creatures – from the stags to the little frogs to the fireflies – are really only saying one thing: "Fancy a shag?"


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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