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Silicon Valley Reboots with Fresh Anxieties and Bigger Laughs

on April 20, 2017, 4:06pm

The following preview was written having seen three of 10 episodes from the fourth season of Silicon Valley. It tries not to be too spoiler heavy, but obviously there are some key details revealed. Read at your own risk.

An easy elevator pitch for HBO’s Silicon Valley has always been “Entourage for nerds.” But that’s a total disservice to Mike Judge’s tech comedy, which enters its fourth season with a Hooli/Endframe box full of new anxieties, bigger laughs, and one curious arc that seemingly rewrites the HTML behind the show’s cartoonish heroes and villains. No, Silicon Valley is a whole other entity, an assured parody of a real-life world where the impossible happens on the hour. And unlike Vinnie Chase’s Hollywood brat pack, Pied Piper’s rag-tag team actually solves its own problems, relying less on deus ex machina plot devices and more on hard-earned resolutions, and that’s a part of the anxious fun.

Yet anxiety is what fuels so much of Judge’s comedy. Whether it’s the hilarious savagery of Beavis and Butt-Head, the existential loneliness of Office Space, or the unforgiving prophecies of Idiocracy, the veteran writer and filmmaker knows how to subtly get under your skin and stay there, tickling your funny bone as he scorches your soul with harrowing stakes. Silicon Valley has long capitalized on that wicked juxtaposition, turning each Sunday night into a hot seat that’s as anxious as it’s funny. It’s not only on the face of Thomas Middleditch’s brittle leading man, Richard Hendricks, but in the little mundane details that traditionally turn fatal for everyone involved, from the zeroes of Pied Piper to the antagonists at Hooli. In Judge’s world, all bets are off, and no one is spared from another contemptuous, soul-crushing joke.

Such is the case for all of the major characters going into season four. Now, if you recall from last season, Pied Piper was saved with a Hail Mary bid by Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) and Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti’s (Josh Brener) Bachmanity Capital, who scrounged up the necessary funds after selling off their lucrative tech blog last minute. The problem, however, is that Pied Piper is entrenched in controversy after Richard confessed to interested VCs that the company fudged their usership with a fraudulent Bangladesh clickfarm. Naturally, word has spread all across town, which is why, when we first see Richard, he’s shadowing as an Uber driver and trapping potential investors with impromptu pitches. It’s a dour situation, but Richard’s more or less nonplussed, namely because he’s not too interested in the company’s buzzy video chat software.

Instead, he has another Big Idea up his iodine-stained sleeves, and it centers around a completely decentralized Internet using his one-of-a-kind compression algorithm. Ambitious? Sure. Lofty? Maybe. But this is Silicon Valley, where there’s no ceiling for ambition, and his oddball idea actually has some weighty ties to the past, a third-episode-revelation that could potentially recalibrate how the show’s proverbial chess game is played out over the next seven chapters. The way Judge and his writing team weave in that left turn is a testament to the series’ attention to narrative, and granted, we haven’t seen where it might go (for all we know, it could be tossed aside with another unexpected turn), but it has the makings of a very intriguing arc, one that could provide the final answer to Richard’s long-running search for a proper algorithm home.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with this main thread, the show continues to plug its ensemble cast into a number of tantalizing situations: Kumail Nanjiani’s Dinesh Chugtai becomes a terrifying amalgamation of Mark Zuckerberg and Mark Cuban when he’s given the spotlight for designing Piper Chat (all to the bemusement of Martin Starr’s vindictive sloth Bertram Gilfoyle); Matt Ross’ Gavin Belson perplexingly spends hundreds of thousands of dollars obsessing over the flight patterns of Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky); Zach Woods’ Jared Dunn fumbles at “guy talk”; and Bachman keeps plotting his next move as Big Head’s cautious father stands in his way. Admittedly, there’s a lot going on, but like one of Richard’s meandering equations, this show works best with dozens upon dozens of variables working all at once — thrives on it, in fact.

Reason being, every little thread offers Judge one more opportunity to add something bizarre, especially when it comes to the show’s more inspired visual gags. Given his extended resume these days, it’s easy to forget that Judge initially made a name for himself in animation, but his knack for visual humor has forever been a major component of his comedy. (Think about those montages in Office Space, or all the situational oddities sprinkled around the wastelands of Idiocracy.) Silicon Valley is full of them, enough that you could easily mute this show and still laugh your ass off from beginning to end, and as expected, the fourth season carries on that tradition. A couple highlights include a recurring bathroom bit, much to the detriment of Amanda Crew’s ever-unlikely Monica Hall, and a frustrating battle between Richard and the incubator’s hallway door.

Actually, “frustrating” is a pretty fair description for everyone in the fourth season. It’s been a long, tumultuous journey for all parties, and Judge and co. wisely embellish those feelings in what’s perhaps a self-aware nod to the series’ budding longevity. Again, this isn’t Entourage, there is no life-saving Ari Gold, and there are no game-changing roles; there’s only another sale or another acquisition, and each time that happens, it’s back to the drawing board for either side, and that’s fucking exhausting — for both the characters and the viewers. By recognizing that redundancy, Silicon Valley avoids the pitfalls that come with the territory and instead uses them to their advantage. But that notion shouldn’t be too surprising; after all, this is a show that thrives off subversion, and four seasons later, Judge and co. are still the “belles of the balls” in that area.

Silicon Valley returns to HBO on Sunday, April 23rd at 10 p.m. EST

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