Three episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Given the constantly evolving and paradigm shifting nature of the titular Californian hotspot, HBO’s furiously funny comedy series Silicon Valley has a nearly endless stream of real-life absurdity to parody each season. From a dire life-or-death live stream (with crystal-clear video!) to the nuts and bolts of running and operating a start-up company, the show constantly feels topical, resonant, and meaningful without an ounce of trying-too-hard bogging it down.
Creator Mike Judge has built a world that teeters slightly on the edge of unreality, but he never goes full-force into that abyss. The setting is tangible, the characters are believable (and crushingly relatable), and the always-an-underdog plot arcs are feverishly entertaining. Season 4 of Silicon Valley keeps that deft mix of humor, heart, and all-hell-breaking-loose potent and strong in the first few episodes sent for review, proving that – like Pied Piper – the show itself can pivot into something completely unexpected at a whim, which hopefully means this peerlessly funny show will be around for a very long time.
For Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Pied Piper’s pivot from a file compression platform into a purely video chat app – due to last season’s clickfarm scandal – is one move he can’t quite get behind. He’ll have to though, or he’ll risk alienating co-workers/best friends Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Erlich (T.J. Miller), Big Head (Josh Brener), and Jared (Zach Woods), who are all more or less ready to be rid of Pied Piper’s long road of troubles and move into the simplicity and scandal-free “PiperChat” app.
Of course, this is Silicon Valley, and five-alarm fires come burning down the gang’s incubator post haste. In the wake of Richard’s indifferent opinion about PiperChat, the group faces an internal struggle over whether Richard should be CEO in the first place, and archenemy Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) faces a crisis of his own when he enters an epic conflict (that may or may not be entirely in his head) with former Pied Piper CEO and new Hooli executive, Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky).
In typical Silicon Valley style, the problems thrown at the Piper gang are brutally menial (episode 2 centers around that pesky Terms of Service checkbox no one reads), and yet catastrophic. The drama of the show jives naturally with the setting, managing to create realistically FUBAR situations that generate frequently hilarious gags from characters whose default emotional state is constant perplexity. It sounds obvious and a little rote, but the humor of smart people doing and saying dumb things is consistently satisfying, mostly because it’s being written and performed by such quality creatives behind the scenes.
Middleditch, for starters, doesn’t lose a beat in his pivot away from Pied Piper in season 4. The loyalty he has to his friends clashes nicely with the passion he has for a new venture, and watching Richard awkwardly fumble and trip his way to something nearing enlightenment is a gratifying way to open the season. He doesn’t know whether or not Pied Piper is his future, but like his old pal Russ Hanneman (Chris Diamantopoulos) gracefully tells him: “It’s like you’re trying to date a woman, but deep down in your soul you know you’d rather be plowing a dude.” Richard’s move to finally plow the dude he wants to sets up a season of interesting twists and turns that will hopefully carry through to the finale.
Silicon Valley‘s star really shines in its ensemble, however. Erlich is still the money-grubbing leader who has decimal points and shares on his mind more than he does the well-being of his friends and their percentage stakes in the company, and yet played by Miller his deplorableness approaches endearment. Nanjiani and Starr, meanwhile, get quite a few moments to spar in the premiere, resulting in the season’s first rewind-worthy set-piece group discussion centering around the future of PiperChat and its leadership. The quiet and affable MVP is Woods’ Jared, who becomes a lost and anxious puppy when Richard begins deviating from Pied Piper. As always, he has more tools in his toolbox than is expected from the gangly, introverted guy on screen, admitting to Richard at one point that learning how to do manicures helped him survive when he was living on the street, naturally.
When they’re all together in the same room – and even doofus Big Head is back for good – Silicon Valley is a blast. It’s been that way since season 1’s epic, classic middle-out finale gag, and although the show has felt like a fight to top that joke at times, the worthy, relevant stories it’s tackling never feel like wheels-spinning material. In the first episodes of season 4 alone there’s the search for leadership at a troubled company, the unexpected insecurity that can come with being in charge, and it’s all capped by a laudatory search for personal satisfaction over fortune and status. Silicon Valley understands its characters well enough to know that even the best laid plans will implode spectacularly, but that never makes the show any less of a riot to watch.
Actually, knowing there’s doom – and maybe just a little bit of justice – around the corner for the guys at Pied Piper makes the fourth season of Silicon Valley more addicting than ever. It’s an unpredictable show (beyond the few inner-group relationships that remain largely the same after four years), and even an uncompromising and brutal one, ready to rip apart its characters’ hardest-fought work in seconds and leave them up a creek. Even though the show still abides by that framework in season 4, nothing ever feels dull or expected, everything conforms at once to what is expected of it, and then naturally and surprisingly morphs into something enticingly different.
“I’ve always been very adept at taking the shape of whatever shoe is pressed down upon me,” Jared glumly admits to the group early in the season, and that’s nothing if not emblematic of the reserved-yet-fiery “nerds” fighting for their right to be successful billionaires in a time when it’s somehow simultaneously the easiest, and hardest, it’s ever been to do so. The shape of the shoe always changes, but Silicon Valley is as adept as ever in its ability to morph into what it needs to in order to be the biting, clever, and truly funny series it still is four years in.