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Valley of the Boom tells the story of the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley, but the show itself is a miserable bust.
In the early days of public investment in internet companies, anyone with a high-tech sounding name and confusing technology had an opportunity to bamboozle the public.
The first episodes focus on Netscape, the web browser company whose IPO (initial public offering on the stock market) sparked the investing mania that led to the dot-com bubble. Marc Andreessen, Netscape’s visionary programmer, was quirky but gifted, and Netscape’s browser was much better than the competition from Microsoft.
It may be hard to remember, but in the mid-1990s we paid for our web browsers. That is, we paid until Microsoft, perhaps seeing the threat from Netscape, began bundling Internet Explorer for free with its Windows software.
One of the themes of the series is that greed is bad, and greed was rampant in Silicon Valley. We learn the tale of Michael Fenne, founder of Pixelon, and an old-fashioned huckster. Fenne is one of those characters that make Christians wince: He’s the son of a preacher, and he can quote enough Scripture to gain the trust of believers, but at his core, he is rotten. After lots of investment and a lavish launch party, Pixelon turned out to be a house of cards.
Valley of the Boom is told documentary style: Interviews with the real players of the time (people like Mark Cuban and Arianna Huffington) are interspersed with re-created scenes using actors. It’s these re-created scenes that drag down the series. In an effort to keep our interest, producers chose a very campy style, with narration by rappers, dream sequences, and dancing numbers. These scenes also feature some vulgar language and blasphemy.
The source material for Valley of the Boom was enough for a powerful lesson on the love of money, but it is wasted in this tedious production. The series airs Sunday nights on the National Geographic Channel.