“I don’t want to be just guys in a house.”
Since its debut, Silicon Valley has brilliantly lampooned the tech industry by showing us both the proverbial “guys in a garage” and the self-important, aggressively eccentric billionaires obsessed with staying ahead of the curve. The show’s central tension (and cruel joke) is that the ultimate endgame for the scrappy underdogs is to become…self-important, aggressively eccentric billionaires obsessed with staying ahead of the curve. Season 4 pushes the limit of the immoral behavior our alleged heroes will justify while continuing to deliver the best mix of brainy and bawdy laughs on television.
“Welcome to the Valley, a—holes.”
Season 3 ended with the Pied Piper crew — embattled CEO Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), CFO/resident weirdo Donald Jared Dunn (Zach Woods), and bickering programmer/server engineer duo Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) — stumbling onto their latest success: PiperChat, a video chat app that Dinesh developed as a side project. On top of that, the company was acquired by pompous entrepreneur/Pied Piper landlord Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) and Richard’s long-time friend Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti (Josh Brener), so all appears to be right in the world. The only problem is that Richard’s game-changing data compression algorithm is the reason Dinesh’s video chat app is taking off, and Richard has much grander plans for his creation…namely, a “New Internet.”
As a result, Richard abandons an easy payday and splits off from the rest of the Pied Piper crew to pursue his ambitious dream project. (It’s no spoiler to say that Dinesh and PiperChat’s time atop the tech world is short-lived.) Meanwhile, there is a power struggle at Hooli, the tech giant that’s been trying to crush Richard ever since he left to launch Pied Piper. Smarmy CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) feels threatened by the capable and cagey Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky). The rest of the season is rounded out by the return of fan-favorite recurring characters (Haley Joel Osment also joins the mix as a good-natured BS artist) and the deepening of our major players as Richard pushes harder than ever to achieve greatness.
“See? It always works out!”
One of the better running jokes on the show is Big Head’s innate ability to fall “ass backwards” into success. (In season 4, he inexplicably scores a guest lecturer gig at Stanford.) If Silicon Valley has one consistent flaw, it’s that Big Head’s absurdly good fortune extends to the rest of the Pied Piper crew, which undermines the wonderfully effective dramatic moments in this comedy series. Woods, in particular, is a standout this season as Jared. In addition to having his loyalties torn between beloved boss Richard and the rest of his Pied Piper friends family, Jared is increasingly troubled by Richard’s moral decay, leading to an excellent meltdown at the end of Ep. 9/“Hooli-Con.” Still, I’m happy to report that Woods’ strong dramatic work hasn’t dulled his hilariously bizarre comic sensibilities one bit. (My favorite gag is “Ed Chambers,” the fake horrible boss Jared manufactures to get things done.)
The show as a whole remains as funny as ever, even if things always get resolved a bit too neatly. 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. The mixture of low- and high-brow humor is perfectly encapsulated in the show’s “Not Hot Dog” app, a penis joke that somebody took the time to adapt to the real world. This is also a show that debates the proper pluralization of “hard-on,” while also shining a light on lawsuit-happy “patent trolls” and mining real-life for comedy gold (Apple’s Chinese factory controversy, and a CEO uprooting his life to seek enlightenment).
Middleditch does his best, most stressed-out work to date. The tics and crippling awkwardness are expertly played — as is Richard’s epic fight with a door — but the show’s writing continues to send mixed messages by having Richard behave horribly and still tying things up in a nice bow for him. Nanjiani’s heightened profile in real life (thanks to his starring role in The Big Sick) coincides nicely with Dinesh’s (temporary) ascendance. Dinesh also meets a woman who hates Gilfoyle as much as he does, while Gilfoyle finds a new nemesis in…a smart fridge. Speaking of blood rivals, Erlich’s contentious relationship with cigarette-loving incubator tenant Jian-Yang goes to another level when they are forced to partner up in a new venture.
Miller shocked the comedy world by abruptly and definitively announcing he was leaving Silicon Valley. It’s a major loss of a fan-favorite, but the finale/“Server Error” allows for a logical place for Erlich to exit. The season had also began to establish the idea that Erlich had outlived his usefulness in this world. In a similarly thoughtful vein, Silicon Valley also gave the odious Gavin Belson an honest-to-goodness arc, as the CEO’s paranoia leads to a downfall and an unexpected alliance.
So even though I may roll my eyes at the show’s tidy resolutions, there is still more than enough comedic (and dramatic) firepower to keep me tuning in.
Silicon Valley: The Complete Fourth 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 16 mbps. The low bit rate can be attributed to the fact that this is the first Silicon Valley Blu-ray release to cram a season’s worth of episodes onto one disc. (Sadly, Richard’s data compression algorithm wasn’t applied to this HBO Blu-ray.) While the show continues to primarily be set in perpetually sunny Palo Alto — with a dash of Tibet thrown in during the season finale — the series has never quite been a visual marvel. So while the low bit rate is disappointing, it isn’t exactly a deal breaker. This remains a bright, clean, blemish-free presentation that is thoroughly pleasing to look at. The show still spends plenty of time in Erlich’s grody, fratty incubator, which highlights this fine detail in this presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is still, 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 not a major part of the presentation, but we do feel the full breadth of the surround sound field when one of Erlich’s prized possessions goes up in flames at the end of Ep. 8/“The Keenan Vortex.” Fidelity remains fantastic and the clarity of the dialogue and punchlines — the most important part of this track — is still top-notch.
Deleted Scenes: (2:45) There are three scenes total, or one each from Eps. 2, 6, and 9. We get additional looks at Gavin’s paranoia, Erlich’s general dissatisfaction, and Jack Barker’s tragically underwhelming Hooli-Con presentation. Features a Play All option. Presented in HD. (For episodes 2, 6, 9)
“I shall look forward to the fight.”
Silicon Valley: The Complete Fourth Season features all 10 episodes on one disc. Packing all the episodes onto a single disc and giving us measly bonus material is honestly a disappointing look for one of HBO’s more innovative shows.
It will be interesting to see how Silicon Valley addresses Erlich’s sudden departure. (Especially considering that all the main characters have been living in his house since the show started.) But I have confidence that the brainiacs behind the camera will keep the brainiacs on-screen hilariously stumbling toward greatness.