“It’s hard to believe your pathological inability to make a decision finally paid off.”
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. Given the fact that we’re now in season 5 — and the Pied Piper gang has improbably managed to stay in business this long — the days inside the boys’ fratty “hacker hostel” seem especially far off. But while Silicon Valley still delivers an entertaining mix of brainy and bawdy laughs, the series seems to be running out of ways to show us how these brilliant dorks can continue to fail upwards.
After averting yet another major crisis at the end of season 4, the Pied Piper crew — jittery, 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) — finds itself in a rare position of strength.
Richard’s idea of building a New (decentralized) Internet has the Valley buzzing, so Pied Piper is forced to actually hire staff for its swanky new office space. (Naturally, Richard manages to screw this up by hiring way more people than he needs.) But while rival CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) is preparing to launch the utterly uninspiring Box 3 and unemotional venture capitalist/Pied Piper investor Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer) has her own designs for Pied Piper’s New Internet, Richard ultimately winds up being his own worst enemy before pulling off another improbable last-minute save.
If Silicon Valley has one consistent flaw, it’s that Pied Piper’s supernatural ability to get out of jams undermines some of wonderfully dramatic moments in this comedy series. The shtick has worn a little thin by season 5, but the show also had to contend with the sudden departure of original cast member T.J. Miller, who starred as blowhard entrepreneur Erlich Bachman.
The actor didn’t exactly leave on amicable terms, so it’s both amusing an unsurprising to find that Erlich’s nemesis Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) spends a good part of the first few episodes trying to declare Erlich dead — T.J. Miller is dead to the showrunners! — in order to inherit his assets, including the hacker hostel and Erlich’s shares in Pied Piper. Yang inherits a good amount of Miller’s screen time, but the character was much more effective as a foil for Erlich than as a full-blown supporting character.
It’s also getting harder and harder to buy Middleditch — with his endless stream of Verizon commercials — as someone who gets queasy speaking in front of a crowd. (Silicon Valley is certainly not above a good gross-out gag.) Season 5 also sees the promotion of Jared to Pied Piper’s COO, though the character remains as hilariously weird and slavishly loyal as ever. Dinesh and Gilfoyle continue to clash, although season 5 throws in the welcome wrinkle of further throwing Monica (Amanda Crew) — Laurie’s VC partner and a longtime ally of Richard’s— into the Pied Piper mix toward the end of the season. (Monica and Gilfoyle display a nice spark in the finale.)
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 crass, computer geek-friendly brew. This is the rare series that can explain the way cryptocurrency works while also working in a recurring gag involving Gavin Belson’s phallic signature. The show also gets more comedic mileage out of the Tesla(s) Dinesh purchases this season to show off his newfound success than actual mileage Dinesh gets out of the vehicle. There are also insightful, big picture jokes, such as the fact that Jian-Yang eventually tries to make a cheap ripoff of Richard’s New Internet in China and that Christians are a more persecuted group in Silicon Valley than homosexuals.
Silicon Valley: The Complete Fifth Season features all 8 episodes on one disc. There are no special features. In addition to the complete lack of bonus material, this is the first Silicon Valley set to not be released on Blu-ray. I’m sure the decision was made based on how well (or rather not well) previous sets have sold, but I also can’t help but see this as a sign that the show is winding down.
One of season 5’s best episodes is Ep. 5/“Facial Recognition,” which allows the show to explore artificial intelligence and the creepy, predatory side of Silicon Valley. However, the episode also features Gavin having a crisis of faith, as he starts to question his purpose and wonders if he should stay in the tech business at all. It’s no spoiler to say that Gavin quickly rallies to wreak more havoc for our heroes, but I feel the show is similarly trying to figure out a way to keep its creative juices flowing. Here’s hoping Silicon Valley bounces back too and achieves brilliance once again.