Posted in: Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on April 20th, 2016
“Billionaires are people too.”
HBO’s Silicon Valley, which takes merciless aim at the tech capital of the U.S., was impressive right out of the gate. The series struck comedy gold in its debut season by making fun of both self-important, aggressively eccentric billionaires and the bumbling “guys in a garage” who are trying to get to their level. Season 2 is both nerdier and more confident in its skewering of corporate soullessness and the scrappy underdogs who often can’t get out of their own way. (I’m not sure there’s another show on TV that would use a SWOT analysis to decide whether a douche-y stuntman lives or dies.) The result is a very funny sitcom that has gotten even better.
“I just want to get funded and build Pied Piper. I hate this part!”
Despite plenty of bumps along the road, season 2 begins on a triumphant (if anxiety-ridden) note for the guys at Pied Pier. The team — tentatively led by CEO Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) — is coming off an impressive showing at the TechCrunch: Disrupt conference, where their game-changing data compression algorithm has made them the toast of the town. The Pied Piper crew — which also includes bickering co-CTOs Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), well-meaning weirdo CFO
Donald Jared Dunn (Zach Woods), and pompous entrepreneur Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller), who owns the incubator where Pied Piper was founded and consequently owns 10 percent of the business — field multiple funding offers from venture capital firms. The presumed front-runner is Raviga Capital, which invested in Pied Pier early on.
“I don’t want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do.”
However, Raviga is plunged into disarray after CEO Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) dies during a vacation. (Welch died during the filming of season 1, and his character gets a fittingly wacky send-off in the season 2 premiere.) On top of that, Hooli — the tech giant where Richard previously toiled while developing Pied Piper on his downtime — is still intent on crushing the smaller company. Slimy Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) sues Pied Piper and tries to stake a claim to their intellectual property. (Gavin’s sneaky strategy also involves Richard’s friend/ jack-of-no-trades Hooli employee Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti, played by Josh Brener.) The lawsuit effectively kills Pied Piper’s momentum and forces them to go into business with tacky billionaire Russ Hanneman (Chris Diamantopoulos). The season culminates with a binding arbitration hearing that threatens to end Pied Pier for good.
Silicon Valley counts writer/director/producer duo Mike Judge (Office Space, Idiocracy, Beavis and Butthead) and Alec Berg (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld) among its creators, and the show impressively incorporates at least a little of all those previous comedies’ DNA to funny effect. In addition to the great SWOT Analysis gag, we learn that Silicon Valley is a place where smokers are considered lower lifeforms than pedophiles. There’s room in Silicon Valley for both profanely funny ad-libs (usually courtesy of Miller, Starr, or Nanjiani) and geeky punchlines that liken a tech disaster to either being “Windows Vista-bad” or “Apple Maps-bad.”
The show obviously had to audible to a certain extent following Welch’s death, but even that loss is handled deftly. (Peter Gregory’s exceedingly sincere funeral features a PowerPoint presentation.) The character is replaced at Raviga by Suzanne Cryer’s Laurie Bream, a numbers-driven leader who is just as socially inept as Peter was, so she relies on her assistant Monica (Amanda Crew) to serve as a liaison between her company and Pied Piper. If the show has one minor weakness, it’s that the female characters don’t have as many chances to be funny as their male counterparts. That being said, season 2 incorporates an amusing bit where Jared cheerfully seeks to correct Pied Piper’s female under-representation. The show also smartly gives Matt Ross’s wonderfully hateable Gavin Belson increased screen time; he’s the sort of oblivious buffoon who sincerely believes billionaires are treated
as badly worse than the Jews were by the Nazis. Diamantopoulus — Russ has a brilliantly boorish obsession with being a billionaire — is another tremendous standout this season.
However, I think the show went to higher level because it managed to continue to bring the laughs while deepening its main characters. It’s not a stretch to imagine that tech giant Hooli is simply the future/best possible version of Pied Piper. The difference is Pied Piper is led by Richard, a chronically and pathologically decent guy. (Often to the detriment of his own company.) I was a little lukewarm on Middleditch’s (intentionally) ineffectual work in the first season, and Richard largely remains a shy spazz. However, season 2 does a better job of illustrating how Richard’s anxiety — in season 2, he suffers from a bout of night sweats that may or may not develop into bed wetting — originates from a well-meaning place.
Middleditch’s jittery work is terrifically balanced by Miller’s scene-stealing, arrogant bravado as Erlich, who is at his best/most insufferable when Pied Piper is being wooed by every venture capitalist in town. (There’s a fantastic sequence where Erlich realizes the firms are negging Pied Piper to drive down their value, so he decides to respond in an even more aggressively negative way. In this case, two negatives absolutely make a positive.) Nanjiani and Starr have developed an entertainingly hostile, co-dependent relationship. But the real (not so) secret weapon might be Woods. Jared’s birding enthusiast/German sleep-talking ways make him the doormat in a house full of betas. (Does that mean he’s the alpha beta? Russ seems to think so.) However, Woods’ aggressively helpful, cheery sincerity is essential to the show.
Silicon Valley: The Complete Second Season is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 29 mbps. The show is set in perpetually sunny Palo Alto, which results in a clean, warm, blemish-free image image that is consistently pleasing to look at. Fine detail is impressive, whether we’re looking at Erlich’s fratty, somewhat grody incubator house or the Hooli offices and its explosions of color. (The latter is supposed to stand-in for any tech company, but seems to bear a particularly suspicious resemblance to Google.) We spend less time at Hooli in season 2, but sequences like the ones where the Pied Piper gang visits the fictitious Homicide energy drink headquarters help fill the garish void. Overall, this is a pretty straightforward HD presentation done exceedingly well.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is, like most comedy series, heavy on the dialogue. The subs do pipe in during any musical (usually hip-hop flavored) cue, and during any of the party/bar scenes. (There’s also some nice reverb throughout the surround sound field during the season premiere’s visit to AT&T Park.) The track offers very good separation, with understated background noises (crowd noise, office chatter, chirping birds in Erlich’s neighborhood) in the rear and the dialogue staying firmly up front. Fidelity is terrific and dialogue clarity — the most important thing here — is top-notch.
All of the bonus material is presented in HD. The “Reality Bytes” featurette is available on Disc 2.
Reality Bytes — The Art & Science Behind Silicon Valley: (3:08) This brief featurette highlights the incredible amount of detail the show’s creators have incorporated into Silicon Valley. (I’m talking 2-inch Post-It notes, and hunting down old servers for Pied Piper’s garage operation.) There’s also a quick look at the development of the show’s Weissman Scale. I actually wish this one had been a little longer and more in-depth.
Deleted Scenes: (10:50) We get some more of Gavin with his sycophantic guru (a clear nod at Steve Jobs’ spiritual side), another arranged meeting between Monica and Carla, Dinesh ruining his own “cool cousin” status, and a little more. Some funny, well-acted material here, but nothing essential. Features a Play All option.
Audio Commentaries from Cast and Crew: There are six tracks — for Eps. 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10 — and they include creator/director Mike Judge, director/writer Alec Berg and virtually every regular and recurring cast member. (Matt Ross’s Gavin Belson is the one notable exception.) Middleditch has an amusing recurring gag where he mangles his own name while introducing himself during his multiple appearances on these tracks.
Not surprisingly, we learn that crew members were considerably more excited to film the season premiere at the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park than the geeky actors were. Even less surprisingly, the tone of these tracks can get pretty rowdy and irreverent; I was actually most amused to hear Jimmy O. Yang (who plays Jian-Yang on the show) speak in non-broken English.
Silicon Valley: The Complete Second Season features all 10 episodes on two discs. Season 3 is set to premiere this Sunday. Season 2 ended in a way that was both triumphant and established a major conflict going forward. I am extremely excited to follow the misadventures of the Pied Piper crew.
This is the kind of show that can pull off an extended riff on Schrodinger’s cat but also include a monkey masturbating with a robotic arm. It also features a cast of funny characters we care about. Heck, even the loathsome ones are hilarious. In other words, Silicon Valley is rightly recognized as one of the best comedies on TV. “If you can’t enjoy this many people kissing our ass at this level, I feel sorry for you.”