Last year, the largely un-hyped HBO comedy Silicon Valley, from creator Mike Judge, became one of the biggest surprises of the year. The show is masterful in its balance of both high and lowbrow comedy. The most beautiful culmination of these two elements came in the first season’s final episode, which was — to borrow one of the series’ favorite phrases to utter with dripping satire — a synergistic marriage of tech speak and the world’s most elaborate dick joke.
Beneath its vulgar utterances and zeitgeist references, Silicon Valley is a deeply perceptive satire about tech culture. In that way, it’s similar to its timeslot companion Veep, which also highlights and satirizes its subject (DC politics) through some of the foulest language imaginable (and yet, wonderfully so).
At the end of Silicon Valley‘s first season, the men of Pied Piper won the TechCrunch Disrupt competition, and $50,000 to fund their startup. That money was not the real prize, though; winning the contest means investors pouring out of the woodwork, looking to offer the new company tens of millions, in the hope of parleying that into billions.
For the show’s second season, the shift now becomes less about the creation of that golden algorithm (and bringing a team together to make it work) than it is about how to make the idea viable on the market, and keeping it afloat. The group’s sweet, stuttering and reluctant leader, Richard (Thomas Middleditch), is still struggling to find the best opportunity for the group, while Erlich (the incomparable T.J. Miller) helps him turn on the suave as they leapfrog from investor meeting to investor meeting. Though the first season saw an initial investment from the billionaire venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), Welch passed away during the filming of that season, which the show addresses at the start of its second. With Gregory no longer a sure bet for funding, the guys look elsewhere, with mixed results.
In Silicon Valley, even winning feels like losing. In one short arc, Richard learns from their former liaison with Gregory, Monica (Amanda Crew), that the soaring valuation coming from the competition of the venture capitalists means that there’s no way Pied Piper can live up to those numbers. Like so many startups before them, that inflation could mean their very quick demise. Instead, she urges them to take a low offer, in order to be able to actually come out even with revenue.
The struggles Pied Piper face come from all directions, though. When their main nemesis, Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) throws a frivolous lawsuit their way (in order to tie them up until his version of their software, Nucleus, launches), investors become nervous. Meanwhile, there’s some infighting in the group between Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfyole (Martin Starr) over titles, staff, and budget. Jared (Zach Woods) tries to hold things together, but even he can’t support all of Richard’s decisions for the company (including the involvement of of one particularly obnoxious venture capitalist).
Silicon Valley is, in some ways, a simple story of dogged entrepreneurship, and about a small business trying to make something of itself because of its superior product, as it struggles against huge corporate competitors. But because this is a tech company in the wildly over-inflated world of Silicon Valley, the pace, and the stakes, are driven to extraordinary places. What makes Silicon Valley stand out, though, is how it mixes this nuanced exploration of business and tech with much broader humor.
Like its first season, Silicon Valley is packed with cultural references, send-ups of the tech world’s worst attributes (embodied in a statement Gavin makes to his board that, “I don’t want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do”), and a hilarious infusion of crude humor (Erlich tells one of the investment companies, “your logo looks like a sideways vagina, and I find that to be racist. Don’t you?”)
One change that has come, perhaps because the show took some of its criticism, is that there is now more than one woman on the show, and the two of them (so far) are playing bigger roles. Monica continues to help Pied Piper by giving them business advice (whether they like it or not), and she also shares a lot of scenes with Peter Gregory’s replacement, Laurie (Suzanne Cryer). Though Welch’s shoes are impossible to fill, Cryer’s portrayal of a personality that is 100% numbers and 0% social understanding is the perfect follow-up to what Welch established as Gregory. (To that end, another one of Silicon Valley‘s biggest successes has been in finding so many different ways to illustrate and define the personality concept of a true geek).
Pied Piper’s detours on the road the success have only amplified this year, and Silicon Valley continues to find new ways to challenge the group’s forward motion with conflicts from both within and without. But the energy, excitement, and ultimately the incredible humor the show has makes it a positively kinetic viewing experience.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Silicon Valley Season 2 premieres on HBO April 12th at 10 p.m. Check back Collider for episodic recaps the following morning after each new episode.