212 – Silicon Valley, Season One

silicon valley

July was apparently a month of making up for my truant sitcom-watching behavior. Earlier in the month I caught up on Playing House, and now – almost four months after reviewing the pilot – I’ve finally finished the first season of Mike Judge’s new HBO series, Silicon Valley.

If you read my review of the first episode back in April, you may remember that the incredibly talented cast and crew really interested me, but the episode itself did not. That might be part of the reason why it took so long for me to get back to the show. The creators definitely made improvements while I was away.

The premiere ended with main character Richard Hendriks (Thomas Middleditch) declining a multi-million dollar buyout from his boss, Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), in favor of a much smaller offer, but also a not insignificant mentorship from Belson’s rival, Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch). The idea was that with Gregory’s guidance, Richard would be able to turn his excellent compression algorithm into tech company all it’s own.

The first season is mostly concerned with the slow gestation of that company. The company – Pied Piper – is rounded out by eccentric company face Erlich Bachman (T. J. Miller), business consultant Jared Dunn (Zach Woods), and programmers Bertram Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh Chugtai (Kumail Nanjiani). Each episode tends to concern a different aspect of the business that is being held up by the antics of these zany characters.

The cast is still tops, and they will always be Silicon Valley’s greatest strength. Miller’s loud shtick can be a little much sometimes, but he deploys it to the perfect extent here. Woods – who has made a career of playing weirdos in The Office, Playing House, and others – plays a more subdued version of his normal weirdo as well. Unfortunately Middleditch’s Richard never really became the dynamic character that the actor deserved.

The secret MVP of the cast is (was) Welch as Peter Gregory. While most of the actors are playing variants on other roles or their own personalities, Welch brought Peter to life in a very real way, embodying the character physically as well as verbally. Christopher Evan Welch tragically passed away last December after a battle with lung cancer. The loss to Silicon Valley obviously pales in comparison to the loss experienced by Welch’s family and friends, but he will leave a hole in the show. It’s a void that you can already feel in the last few episodes of the season.

Or maybe it’s the wearying structure of the seaosn that is the problem as it nears its conclusion. The idea of showing the formation of a tech start-up is a sound one, but it ends up feeling far too regimented. I like the idea of serialized storytelling, but Silicon Valley‘s first season comes off more like a list of Lego instructions than a naturally evolving season of television.

Silicon Valley is a legitimately funny show, and it’s better than a lot of the crappy scripted comedy on television these days. It is just bad luck that it is so difficult to live up to such an impressive pedigree. I’ll still check out the new episodes when the show returns. Maybe now that Pied Piper is a going concern, the show will be more loose with its structure. Maybe that will allow Middleditch and the rest of the cast to loosen up as well.

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