When we last left our merry band of tech innovators, programmers and start up investors the infamous company Pied Piper had taken yet another dramatic pivot. The algorithm company CEO and founder Richard (Thomas Middleditch) had once hoped would revolutionize video compression was pushed to the side for an increasingly popular video chat application developed by Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani). And, if you’ve ever worked even tangentially close to the tech sector it made a lot of sense and in a way that has always been the biggest strength of Mike Judge’s “Silicon Valley.”
Sure, corporate giant Hooli (think Yahoo having overstayed its welcome) and its incredulously dumb “Chief Innovation Officer” Gavin Benson (Matt Ross) is an increasingly less funny cartoon in the background, but the obstacles Richard, Dinesh, Gilfoye (Martin Starr) and Jared (the show’s secret weapon, Zach Woods) are shockingly real at times. Take that from a writer who has enough horror stories dealing with angel investors in the online space to book a week full of late night binging sessions. And, truth be told, that often made “Silicon Valley” tough to watch. Can a broad workplace comedy, get too real? Depending on your personal experiences it might.
The first three episodes of season four are intriguing, but not really from a comedy perspective. The laughs are less frequent, although when the bits hit they are of the laugh out loud variety. There is a running gag where a character is demoted and their new office gives them full view of the men’s bathroom and colleagues lined up at urinals that’s pretty great. And the second episode allows Nanjiani to really grab the spotlight after Dinesh becomes the new Pied Piper CEO and turns into an epic douchebag on national television. But beyond the hilarious undercurrent of brokenhearted bromance (or more?) Woods brings to Jared’s interactions with Richard, most of the jokes will get a smile or maybe a slight chuckle. Where “Silicon Valley” becomes much more interesting is in how its plotting out it’s 10-episode storyline.
Season four begins with the team and Richard simultaneously deciding he should no longer be CEO. Richard isn’t into the video chat platform and is obsessed with his finding the right use for his algorithm. He eventually finds it thanks to a dive into former mentor Peter Gregory’s discarded notebooks (Christopher Evan Welch who played Gregory passed away before season 2). He quickly learns, however, that someone else controls the patent to Gregory’s idea and that potentially means an unexpected alliance that you’ve either expected since season one, or thought the series would “never go there.” Episode three ends on a cliffhanger and how this fictional Silicon Valley and Richard’s Pied Piper buddies respond to this potential partnership will absolutely make you want to check out episode four.
It should be noted that “Silicon Valley” still has a problem with how it depicts female characters (or the lack of them). Monica (series regular Amanda Crew) barely shows up until episode two and the only other women in the show so far are Monica’s boss Laurie (Suzanne Beam with just one scene) and a potential love interest for Dinesh that quickly becomes twisted into something more sinister. The show’s main characters are pretty established and are full of faults, but Crew is so marginally used it’s head scratching. Even more so when you learn that last season’s supervising producer Carrie Kemper wrote the third episode and Jamie Babbit (“Girls”) directed it. It may simply be a criticism the show never really addresses.
Also worth noting that Elrich (T.J. Miller) is particularly less grating, er, toned down so far this season thanks to an entertaining subplot with Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) over a potential lucrative app (“the Shazam of food!”). Starr also seems to channeling Nick Offerman more than ever as Gilfoye and if you miss “Parks and Recreation” that can only be a good thing. [B]
“Silicon Valley” premieres at 10 PM ET/ 7 PM PT on HBO.