Now in its fourth season, HBO’s sharp satire on the tech industry, Silicon Valley (not to be confused with HBO’s sharp satire of politics, Veep) has settled into a familiar formula. But then again, most successful comedies do. Just because we know that the lads of Pied Piper will (1) work hard to make a great app and that (2) it will immediately fail and they’ll (3) get out of trouble and will (4) find an alternative way to use their smarts in a rollercoaster fashion throughout each season doesn’t lessen the tension. What makes the show so great is that it continues to find new ways to surprise us in what greed-fueled tech Deus ex machina will appear next — though this year it’s a little more predictable than before.
Season 4 starts with Pied Piper essentially dead after the user-buying scandal, and the company pivoting to their video-based PiperChat. But Richard (Thomas Middleditch) isn’t satisfied with this use of his compression algorithm, and even though the company is doing well Richard is still seen as poison among Silicon Valley VCs.
As such, Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) want to take control of PiperChat, with a reluctant Jared (Zach Woods) in tow. Erlich (TJ Miller) just wants to get his investment money back, and follows. And Big Head (Josh Brener) — who owns a 50% stake in the company — basically is now just doing whatever his dad says to spite Erlich.
The deposed Richard then starts on his dream project: to build a new internet. But his rise (or an attempt to rise) is tied into Hooli CEO Gavin Belsen’s (Matt Ross) fall, as the two seem like they’ll have to forge a new alliance to move forward. Meanwhile, there are numerous other subplots about the new woes faced by PiperChat, Erlich’s latest venture with Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang), and a parade of familiar faces including a brief visit from Russ Hannenman (Chris Diamantopoulos).
At its core, Silicon Valley remains a series that is, surprisingly, able to focus and thrive on the minutia of small business and being an entrepreneur. It has no patience and no mercy for corporate greed and tech speak, eviscerating shallow VCs and their constant fawning over the next big thing, or the fickle and disloyal execs who look for any excuse to take power. But it also finds a lot of laughter in how Big Head always fails up in a culture that idolizes based on perception over reality.
While the show has chronicled the slow rise of Pied Piper and its eventual fall, Season 4 feels a little bit like a reset. The gang may not exactly be working together this time around, but they all remain in Erlich’s incubator house, never far from each other’s orbits. Belsen remains nearby as well, and seems to be taking on a larger role this season (as of the first three episodes given to critics, anyway). The series’ inherent volatility — in the personal relationships as well as the professional ones — keeps things fresh even as old patterns are repeated (like when Dinesh starts to do well, Gilfoyle gets in his head, and Dinesh sabotages himself. Or when Richard is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, is given a eureka moment, and then is thwarted by a technicality).
Season 4 isn’t (yet) as laugh-out-loud funny as some previous seasons, though there are a few unexpected moments that are truly brilliant. Silicon Valley‘s causational world is a little easier to decode, four years in, though the new ways the show finds to reward and punish the work of its leads can occasionally be delightfully unpredictable, even if it fits into a familiar framework. Still, if there is anything that feels a little stale it may be the interactions among the team, who have essentially remain unchanged throughout the years. As Pied Piper shifts and innovates and grows, so too should its major players. It feels due for an upgrade.
Rating: ★★★ Good — Reliably smart and perceptive, but could use an update
Silicon Valley Season 4 premieres Sunday, April 23rd on HBO.