Unexpectedly, there is no better TV series about the challenges of starting a small business and navigating the depressing waters of corporate takeovers than Silicon Valley. Mike Judge’s HBO series is smart, funny, and profane, stylistically juxtaposing its (mostly) white uber nerds against a musical backdrop of hardcore rap. It’s both a parody and a reflection.
Season 3 picks up exactly at the moment where Season 2 left of, illustrating the importance of the moment where Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) was voted out as CEO of his own company, Pied Piper. The first three episodes then go through the divided loyalties of the rest of the engineers and their cohorts — Erlich (T.J. Miller), Jared (Zach Woods), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) — as they are informed by ReViga that a new CEO, Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) has been installed. Known as “Action Jack,” Barker is heralded for turning small startups into billion dollar enterprises. But Silicon Valley being what it is, an alliance with Jack comes with his own price.
What continues to be so impressive about the show is how it investigates the nuances of dull business dealings in a way that feels emotionally urgent. Maybe it’s a connection to the universal contempt (and yet, universal use) of corporate buzzspeak, or the crushing soullessness of cubicle culture and — as this season so brilliantly puts it — thinking inside the box that makes the journey the lads of Pied Piper face so compelling. It’s a new spin on cringe comedy that sets grim realities in a candy-colored world (with artisanal lunch menus, neon billiards tables, and bean bag chairs meant to entice employees into working their lives away).
The new season also alights on the issues at Hooli regarding the failed Nucleus program, and a further plot that shows Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) turning from at least a leader pretending to care about his employees to a dark-souled individual completely consumed by the bottom line. Big Head (Josh Brener), recently on the cover of Wired for his potential as the Next Big Thing (unbeknownst to him of course) also continues to be a part of the satire of the absurd when it comes to tech companies and the value they put on marketing and hype, all in service to raising the share price and creating economic bubbles.
On the lighter side, there are still plenty of bombastic moments of humor from Erlich, as well as some rich banter from the inseparable duo of Dinesh and Gilfoyle. But some of Silicon Valley’s best moments are of quiet awkwardness, like when Richard sits down in Jack’s office facing the desk, until Jack movies to stand in his blind spot, causing him to slink over quickly and awkwardly to a new seat. It’s such a tiny visual gag, but it’s hilarious in its nuance.
The series also shows its mastery of not just corporate send-ups, but in understanding exactly how people really talk. When Gilfoyle and Dinesh consider whether to follow Richard in leaving Pied Piper, they keep tripping up their debate with the disclaimer, “Richard is great, but, you know …” which they shorten to “RIGBY.” Freed from the disclaimer, the two end up getting so heated about the matter it ends with Dinesh exclaiming, “Seriously, fuck him. RIGBY.” Gilfoyle agrees. “RIGBY.”
Tobolowsky is also an excellent addition to the show’s portrayal of the corporate world, as he plays an encouraging and strict father figure in turn. In most ways he’s the opposite of Chris Diamantopoulos’ Russ Hanneman, whose flamboyance and chaotic nature made him a terrible business partner. Jack doesn’t take risks, in fact, his insistence on sticking to the least creative option is a particular bugbear for Richard. But like Hanneman, he presents what at first seems like a reasonable price to pay to make Pied Piper a valid company (the strength of which is always that its core team is greater than the sum of its parts). But where Silicon Valley does its best work is in the struggle between creativity and corporate takeover. Is there ever a truly workable compromise?
Silicon Valley Season 3 manages to work in server farms with animal farms (including a graphic moment of animal husbandry), economics versus creative revolution, bongs and billions, renter issues with corporate investors, and so much more. It’s personal, grandiose, hilarious, and crushingly real. It’s a series that, for the third season in a row, finds power in juxtapositions, and crafts its satire easily by exposing the absurd in sharp relief to the ordinary.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Silicon Valley Season 3 debuts on HBO Sunday, April 24th.