Valley of the Boom is a new docudrama series from creator Matthew Carnahan. It blends scripted and documentary elements, taking a look at Silicon Valley in the 1990s during the tech boom. The show focuses on three of the biggest companies at the time: Netscape, theGlobe.com, and Pixelon.
Technology has always been interesting (albeit a bit hard to understand), and this series takes advantage of that to create one of the most captivating television experiences you will ever see. Not only is it informative and relevant, but it is also extremely humorous and entertaining. Much like what The Big Short did with the crash, this series uses comedy to make the information more palatable and easy to understand for the audience.
There is a character, Darrin, played by Lamorne Morris (Game Night) that serves this purpose. He is an omniscient narrator that breaks the fourth wall frequently and interacts with the other players in the story even though he claims not to exist. This aspect of the show doesn’t entirely make sense, but it works nonetheless because it is one of the most interesting parts.
The largest of the three storylines is about Netscape, one of the early web browsers in the time before browsers came pre-installed on computers. It makes sense that this story dominated a majority of the series because it is perhaps the most important of the three companies. The characters in this segment are the most exciting and complex. It is particularly interesting to go into the mind of founder Marc Andreessen.
The actors in these segments stand out, as they nail the emotional and comedic beats of the script. John Karna, who plays Andreessen, delivers an interestingly ambiguous performance. He does an outstanding job of capturing the mysterious qualities of the character. Bradley Whitford gives a great turn as James Barksdale, CEO of the company, especially when he is tasked with giving wise advice. Comparing the delivery to that of the actual Barksdale (who was interviewed for the show) is fascinating.
The second largest storyline is likely that of theGlobe.com. Considered to be a precursor to Facebook, theGlobe.com was an early social networking site that aimed to use the internet as a means of connecting people. This story is interesting, but perhaps the least involving of the three. The story of the founders of theGlobe.com is similar to others we have seen before.
However, the segments about theGlobe.com do have one significant benefit: the main players in the story were interviewed for the show (Stephan Paternot and Todd Krizelman). This allows the audience to see not only the scripted portion attempting to do justice to the founders’ perspective but also their actual perspective. This means that this portion is likely the closest to the truth. Marc Andreessen (Netscape) and Michael Fenne (Pixelon) were not interviewed.
Hands down the craziest portion of the Valley of the Boom is the story of Pixelon. Pixelon was a company that aimed to improve video streaming over the internet. It is hard to describe without going into spoilers, but this is an example of a story that is so weird that it has to be true. It is baffling how oblivious to the truth all of the players in this situation were.
Steve Zahn is the absolute highlight of the Pixelon storyline. He is pitch-perfect as Pixelon founder David Fenne, capturing the weird and crazy aspects of the character excellently. Zahn steals the screen, with some of the funniest moments. His portrayal of Fenne is undeniably one of the best performances of Zahn’s career, and even deserves awards recognition.
The execution of this series is what will divide critics and audiences. It is hectic, but that seems to be the point. Valley of the Boom is trying to show the chaos of the tech boom, and as such, it fits that the series is extremely chaotic. The series cuts between the three stories frequently, but it isn’t distracting at all. Valley of the Boom also contains metaphors that are hilarious and meaningful but may be off-putting to some.
Overall, Valley of the Boom is a fascinating docudrama series. It harnesses the chaos of Silicon Valley to provide an informative and humor-filled viewing experience.
Valley of the Boom debuts on National Geographic on January 13. Two episodes air every Sunday at 9 pm ET. The first two episodes are available on their website now. (All six episodes were reviewed.)