In ‘Silicon Valley’ premiere, choices are to be made

Monday, May 2, 2016 - 10:33pm

After a season of full of obstacles and bumps in the road for the Pied Piper team, “Silicon Valley” returns and it continues to challenge its characters until they’re ready to crack at the seams. “Silicon Valley” runs on the conflicts that present themselves to Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch, “The Bronze”) and his small team. From eccentric business partners to failed business deals and lawsuits, season two of “Silicon Valley” constantly challenged its core characters, allowing an already strong cast to explore and refine its group dynamic as Pied Piper was being pushed closer and closer to the brink.

Now, after coming together to build and maintain a high-definition livestream video, Pied Piper now seems ready to fall apart as CEO Richard finds himself fired by the new, Raviga-run board. “You have created a company a company too valuable for you to run,” says Raviga CEO Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer, “Teen Beach Movie”) in an argument that holds weight, considering all the stumbles Richard’s made throughout the series.

Yet, it’s hard not sympathize with Richard, the shy programmer who has steadily grown throughout the series into a far more assured leader. His anger at Raviga’s actions is understandable, even though the company offers him the position of CTO, and his desire to leave the company makes sense emotionally. But, can Richard really leave the groundbreaking startup he established in Pied Piper for something less?

This is where “Silicon Valley” excels in its execution, introducing real stakes into its comedy. Sure, the surrounding circumstances may be humorous — such as Richard’s interview at Flutterbeam, a company that specializes in 3-D mustache technology — but the choices characters make have real weight, not just in terms of business, but personally too.

Likewise, the rest of Pied Piper is met with the difficult choice of whether to remain loyal to Richard. Some, like always-subservient Jared (Zach Woods, “The Office”) stand by Richard without question; meanwhile, others weigh their options. Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani, “Portlandia”) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr, “Party Down”) discuss the cons of following Richard with the acronym R.I.G.B.Y (Richard is great but y’know) before deciding to stay on. The rapport between Starr and Nanjiani as the two opportunistic programmers has always been a strong suit of the series and the R.I.G.B.Y exchange and their subsequent struggles to understand Richard’s code continues to build on the pair’s constantly clashing relationship.

Also playing to the series strengths is the ego of Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller, “Deadpool”). The arrogant pride of the character may just be the man’s single greatest strength and weakness as he rages against the Raviga machine and new Pied Piper CEO Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky, “Big Time in Hollywood, FL”). In their first meeting, Erlich disparages the older Barker with a slew of old man jokes that Miller nails with increasing specificity, calling Barker a fan of senior discounts at Perkins Restaurant and “Liking Ike,” among other things. However, Barker preys on Erlich’s ego by bringing up the man’s pride and joy, his now-defunct startup Aviato. Erlich is slain.

The series simultaneously presents Barker as an ally and antagonist, perhaps becoming the biggest threat to the Pied Piper team. On one hand, Barker brings business know-how and experience to the table. But on the other, his ability to manipulate Erlich, and even Richard, by appealing to both of their very different interests forms a character who may not be the most trustworthy. Unlike Pied Piper’s chief rival, Hooli CEO and megalomaniac Gavin Belson (Matt Ross, “Big Love”) who is completely detached from reality and those around him, Barker seems to be able to connect with people and that might be even more dangerous than the absolute power that Belson continues to flaunt.

At times last season, I was genuinely more stressed watching “Silicon Valley” than its lead-in “Game of Thrones.” For now, Pied Piper remains intact, but looking forward hard choices are going to be made. The series presents its characters with real challenges but still maintains its ridiculous satire of the tech industry. We may be laughing at the characters and the silliness of certain situations, but the choices made are genuinely serious in nature as the future of Pied Piper and its team remain uncertain.