“Think inside the box.”
One of the major through lines in season 3 of Silicon Valley is that our heroes at Pied Piper have created a product so ahead of its time that it is failing to connect with consumers, which puts the start-up company in peril. Fortunately, HBO’s brainy and bawdy tech comedy hasn’t had any problems connecting with its audience: the show’s confident and hilarious third season seamlessly mixes talk of “compression algorithms” with outrageous sight gags involving horses getting, um, familiar with each other.
“Essentially, you have created a company that is too valuable for you to run.”
Season 2 concluded with Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) being fired as CEO of Pied Piper, the company he founded. While Richard is a prodigious coder who created a game-changing data compression algorithm, he’s also a disaster as the head of a company. As a result, his Pied Piper cohorts — pompous entrepreneur Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller), CFO/resident weirdo Donald Jared Dunn (Zach Woods), and bickering programmer/server engineer duo Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) — don’t immediately and automatically follow Richard out the door. Things get even more interesting following the hiring of capable and cagey Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) as Pied Piper’s new CEO.
To the surprise of everyone in Silicon Valley besides Richard, Barker and his investors are more interested in making money now versus fully exploring the potential of Richard’s algorithm, which leads to some seriously funny scheming for control of the company. Meanwhile, would-be competitors Endframe (which brazenly stole Pied Piper intel last season) and Nucleus (the in-house compression team at tech behemoth Hooli, where Richard used to work) still loom as a threat, even as slimy Hooli founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) faces one PR nightmare after another.
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 still manages to incorporate at least a little of those previous comedies’ DNA into its own brew. This season features deadpan barbs at eye roll-worthy workplace ridiculousness (i.e. Barker’s “Conjoined Triangles of Success”), techie-specific punchlines (Richard’s prospective love interest lands on the wrong side of the not-so-great “Tabs vs. Spaces” debate), and crude humor (that horse sex scene in Ep. 2/“Two in the Box” is as graphic as anything HBO has aired on Game of Thrones).
Now in its third season, the series has also earned enough capital to trot out recurring bits/characters that fans enjoy. I’m talking about everything from the overly thorough focus group moderator to douche-y billionaire Russ “Three Commas” Hanneman. The regular cast continues to display excellent chemistry. Middleditch is actually a little too good at being a shy spazz…I find myself getting legitimately frustrated with Richard’s self-sabotaging perfectionism and guilelessness. However, it’s clear by now that the makers of the show are plainly aware of Richard’s faults as a leader — RIGBY = “Richard Is Great But You know…— and the actor makes the character’s extreme uncertainty feel relatable.
Besides, most of the big laughs come from supporting players like Erlich (who is humbled in a big way this season, when he’s not locked in a season-long feud with English-challenged tenant Jian-Yang) and Dinesh vs. Gilfoyle (it’s not much of a contest between the best frenemies…Pakistani Denzel Dinesh needs a win badly against Gilfoyle). Meanwhile, Jared can always be relied upon to drop a juicy nugget of weirdness into each episode. Season 3 taught us that Jared has no idea what day his birthday is and that, as a child, he imagined sharing a room with Harriet Tubman. Also, there’s this jacket. Then there’s Gavin, who goes to comically unscrupulous lengths to remain on top…and resorts to animal cruelty to make his point. (I promise it’s much, much funnier than it sounds.) The women on the show — most notably Amanda Crew’s level-headed Monica and her emotionally-challenged boss Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer) — still don’t get to have anywhere near as much fun as the dudes, but they took baby steps toward becoming more interesting this season.
The Pied Piper crew experiences a bunch of ups and downs as they weigh the benefits of sacrificing the things that make their product special so everyone can make more money now. That refusal to dumb things down extends to everyone involved with this show; season 3 of Silicon Valley started strong and stayed reliably excellent through its triumphant finale.
Silicon Valley: The Complete Third 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 28 mbps. The show continues to primarily be set in perpetually sunny Palo Alto, which results in a bright, clean, blemish-free presentation that is thoroughly pleasing to look at. Season 3 brought some extra pops of color once the Pied Piper crew upgraded their work space early on in this run of episodes. No need to fret: the show still spends plenty of time in Erlich’s grody, fratty incubator, which highlights this Blu-ray release’s fine detail. Once again, this is a pretty straightforward modern HD presentation done exceedingly well.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is, like most comedy series, driven by dialogue. The subs don’t usually chime in until the end credits (and the accompanying hip-hop track) start rolling. Ambient noise is a little busier (yet still understated) during sequences spent in Pied Piper’s new work space, but it’s still not a major part of this presentation. Fidelity remains fantastic and the clarity of the dialogue and punchlines — the most important part of this track — remains top-notch.
Deleted Scenes: (5:46) There are three scenes total, or one each from Eps. 1, 4, and 6. My favorite of the bunch involved Erlich and Richard (ok, mostly Erlich) riffing on cuckold porn. Otherwise, these excised bits are amusing but totally expendable. Available on Discs 1 and 2. Presented in HD.
Silicon Valley: The Complete Third Season features all 10 episodes on two discs. The show is one of the funniest on TV, but I’m disappointed that HBO put out the bare minimum in terms of special features. Past Blu-ray sets included cast commentaries, and there’s a ton of potential for extra goodies considering the effort the series puts into selling its fake world. (Like creating a workable version of the fictitious tech website Code/Rag.)
Season 4 is set to premiere April 23, and I’m excited to see what happens next since season 3 ended with another shakeup at the top of the company…and the potential for viewers to follow Pied Piper in an exciting new direction.