As someone who grew up in Silicon Valley, the HBO show of the same name always felt uncannily more like a documentary than a comedy. From the get-go, “Silicon Valley” has been an astute satire of the Valley, a place where obscene amounts of money and a somewhat overzealous sense of self-importance produce an idiosyncratic environment. Ironically, the show has been enthusiastically embraced by the very demographic it relentlessly pokes fun at. Walk into any startup office or CS building at any university and you’ll find that our (speaking as an engineer) affinity towards the show’s humor is not entirely dissimilar to a 12-year-old’s towards toilet humor. Guaranteed guffaws at popular sound bites such as “this guy fucks” or “middle out” illustrate how “Silicon Valley” has transcended into being a possibly niche, but still hilarious cultural icon.
Nonetheless, I was quite worried going into season five. Season four was easily the series’s weakest, with Pied Piper going frustratingly nowhere during the course of the entire season and Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch, “Kong: Skull Island”) going from lovable awkward nerd into a character that was at too many points simply painful to watch. The satire still had its edge, but it seemed like the show’s magic was just about running out. Was the show just overstaying its welcome?
Thankfully, the beginning of season five has me cautiously optimistic. We find the team without Erlich Bachmann (T.J. Miller, “Deadpool”) for the first time after a disappearance in Tibet, and although Erlich is one of the show’s most notable characters, I wasn’t quite miffed by his departure. By the end of season four, he was just a cheap source of crude humor, a deadbeat who had little relevance to the plot or progress of Pied Piper. It turned out that T.J. Miller in real life was becoming a bit too much like the character he played, forcing the writers to strand him in the mountains. Oh well. Anyway, season five sees the group move into a new office, and throughout the course of the first few episodes, welcome a large group of engineers.
And to that I say: finally! Pied Piper is finally actually making some progress. One of the aspects of season four that was so frustrating was the feeling that the show didn’t have to be quite so cyclical. The possibilities for conflict and comedy with a larger team as Pied Piper expands are limitless. While Richard is still hopelessly unfit as a motivator and CEO (an early scene has him give a ridiculously cringeworthy speech to his new employees), he shows glimpses of a Silicon Valley staple many viewers of the show are expecting to pan out: the transformation from being a brilliant, dopey coder to a ruthless businessman, aka Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross, “Captain Fantastic”).
Belson is brilliant as ever, with a renewed zeal to destroy the upstart Pied Piper. The show continues to excel at his characterization as well as incorporating new gags, including a recurring bit that involves three new coders the team dubs “stallions, each one more magnificent than the last.” Each time the stallions are mentioned, sentimental music plays while the camera pans to three disheveled engineers rubbing their eyes while squinting at their laptops. While Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani, “The Big Sick”) and Guilfoyle (Martin Starr, “Spider Man: Homecoming”) have not developed as much as I would like, their interactions are as snide and petty as ever, and characters such as Laurie Breem (Suzanne Cryer, “The Cloverfield Paradox”) remain as perfect imitations of some of Silicon Valley’s more unusual personalities. Jared (Zach Woods, “The Post”), one of the show’s most intriguing characters, continues to drop some truly disturbing lines, which leads me to think he grew up in a weird cultist/Neo-Nazi family.
Meanwhile in Erlich’s absence, Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang, “Crazy Rich Asians”) takes over and hatches a plot to “inherit” his wealth. While Jian Yang is hilarious in short bursts, it is worrying that the show has set him up to potentially be a main villain of sorts. At the moment, he still feels stuck as a caricature.
“Silicon Valley” is back, sort of. Early on, season five is encouraging, actually stimulating the idea that Pied Piper will grow and encounter a new set of problems. However, as I stated before, I remain cautiously optimistic.