The TV Room: Silicon Valley Season 2, by David Bax
In its first season, HBO’s Silicon Valley was a very funny show but it wasn’t without its problems. In addition to accusations of being Entourage for nerds (more on that comparison later), it had pacing and consistency issues. The show often felt like it was toggling between two modes, one being the story of a Silicon Valley start-up and the other being a comedy showcase for various bits using its specific setting as a thematic backdrop. In that way, it often felt like a tech-community sketch show; a very funny one but not the narrative and character driven comedy it was meant to be. In season two, that all changed. Silicon Valley found the tonal balance that had eluded it immediately, using the first episode to be mournful about the death of a character, ominous about what his death means for the remaining characters and hilariously exaggerated and pointed in its depiction of tech-world self-centeredness. It made all these things aspects of a whole and found room for a goofy/sad recounting of a truly bizarre and deadly freak accident.
This season followed Pied Piper’s headline-grabbing success at TechCrunch Disrupt with the death of their investor, his obnoxious replacement (Chris Diamantopoulos) and a major lawsuit brought against Pied Piper CEO Richard (Thomas Middleditch) by his former employer, the wonderfully megalomaniacal and petty Gavin Belson, played by Matt Ross in what may be his finest work to date.
Ross isn’t alone in MVP contention, though. Silicon Valley is a solid ensemble. Minor recurring characters like Ben Feldman’s guitar-strumming lawyer and Andy Daly’s bedwetting-obsessed doctor are as reliably funny as the Pied Piper crew themselves. Middleditch and T.J. Miller continue to the be bickering parents of the company while programmers played by Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani became more and more delightfully misanthropic and Zach Woods’ Donald/Jared/O.J. imbues fresh personality into the stereotype of the brilliant but socially awkward male. Like the real Silicon Valley, the show still has a lack of female representation but the addition of Suzanne Cryer, the increased presence of Amanda Crew and the far too brief inclusion of Romy Rosemont are steps along the right path.
Silicon Valley also grew satirically in season two. Josh Brener’s Big Head and the velocity with which he fails upward are the key to the show’s portrayal of Silicon Valley as a place where petty motivations and a desire for instant gratification rule the day. The first season established Gavin as a supercilious blowhard who couches all of his decisions in vague notions of making the world a better place and damned the whole valley with their eagerness to eat it up. In this season, we saw his ego for that it was. Gavin established a brilliant thinker (played by the always welcome Patrick Fischler) as a figurehead for his new venture but ignored his actual, world changing potential in favor of Big Head, the promotion of whom helped his legal case. In Silicon Valley’s Silicon Valley, lip service to altruism is sufficient. Anything more is a threat to the bottom line.
Finally, and most importantly, Silicon Valley addressed its aforementioned Entourage problem this season. Last year, each episode would introduce a problem, let the team sweat it for a while and then drop a solution in their laps at the last minute. This season, the writers tweaked the formula just a bit and it made all the differences. Now each installment features a problem, followed by a solution and then, at the last second, a new development that made everything worse. Not only did this new approach make for great cliffhangers, it upped the stakes dramatically and turned the show into a delicate blend of belly laughs and white knuckle tension.
Now that Silicon Valley has found its voice – and become the most stressful comedy on television – the prospect of another season is delicious. It’s an odd feeling but I can’t wait to see how much worse things can get for these guys.