This article contains spoilers for season two of “Silicon Valley.”
A lot of comedies can have trouble getting off the ground in their first seasons. HBO’s “Silicon Valley” certainly didn’t have that problem. Last year, it launched a funny and memorable first season.
However, season two, which concluded Sunday, has taken the show to another level. What started off as a sharp satire of the tech world (and still remains as one) has morphed into a sometimes tense, yet always hilarious, thriller.
It’s also the best comedy on TV right now, and one of the best projects creator Mike Judge has worked on during his entire career.
This says a lot, given that Judge is responsible for a lot of classics. “Silicon Valley” combines the spot-on, sometimes painfully true workplace satire of “Office Space” with Judge’s amazing ability to write bumbling idiots, as best exemplified by “King of the Hill” and of course, “Beavis and Butt-head.”
Season two of “Silicon Valley” started with a high point for Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and his growing company Pied Piper. After impressing investors at TechCrunch’s Disrupt, a yearly competition for unfunded startups, during the season one finale, it looked like the struggling young company was finally going to make it big.
But it’s been a rough road to the top for Pied Piper. This season has seen Richard get sued by Hooli (a fictional company with a lot of similarities to Google) CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). Richard once worked for Belson and he believes Richard first created Pied Piper while working at Hooli, thus meaning that Pied Piper actually belongs to Gavin. Meanwhile, Richard nearly lose complete control of his company and all his employees all while trying to learn how to be the boss.
While dealing with one lawsuit, Richard also has to deal with another company who stole his code. Watching “Silicon Valley” is akin to watching somebody on a learning curve: there will be a lot of painful mistakes along the way. And it is painful watching them.
Middleditch gives an Emmy-worthy performance as the fidgety Richard. In season one, he was the quietest character in the show, despite being the lead. In season two, he still seems barely comfortable with the world around him, yet he still has to learn how to run a company. This season is about backwards character development for Richard: he has to go from being a nice guy to a huge jerk, and that manages to backfire a lot.
The first season of “Silicon Valley” showed it could be suspenseful when it needed to be, but this season has really upped the intensity. At many points, I have found myself on the edge of my seat more often while watching “Silicon Valley” than when I watch actual drama on “Game of Thrones,” which serves as lead-in for the HBO comedy.
The final stretch of the season finale includes a scene where Richard has to make a crucial phone call, but can’t find a phone. The events snowball — his phone dies, then he loses his car keys in which there’s a car charger. Once he does get to a phone it doesn’t matter because he can’t remember anyone’s numbers. Oh the pitfalls of the 21st century.
The buildup of the scene until Richard physically arrives at Erlich’s (T.J. Miller) home to deliver his message gives audience members as much agida as the lead is experiencing in the moment.
And while it’s easy to assume that every comedy will have a happy ending, but this season has proved that “Silicon Valley” doesn’t follow those rules and it seems entirely possible that yes, the entire foundation of the show could dissapear in an instant.
Yes, a comedy about coders is capable of taking on the aspects of a thriller. But by focusing on the drama around getting Pied Piper off its feet, every scene involving complicated formulas and lines of code suddenly have much higher stakes. In the competitive tech world, you truly get the feeling at times that Richard and the Pied Piper crew are fighting and gasping for survival.
This is not to say that “Silicon Valley” isn’t still hilarious, because it is among the funniest shows on television at the moment. Part of that has to do with how much more well developed the characters have become.
There’s Jared (Zack Woods) who is way too square for the environment that he is working in. But the most fleshed out dynamic is between Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), two Pied Piper engineers who couldn’t be more different, yet always end up together. In one episode from this season, the two of them use SWOT Analysis (a planning method that businesses use to analyse strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of a situation) to decide whether or not they should allow someone to die. It is dark comedy stretched to its limits.
Judge pokes fun at his characters a lot, as he has a habit of doing, but if you are still around watching at this point, then chances are you really do care about what happens to Pied Piper. This has become the kind of show that masterfully balances the absurdity of a monkey with a robot arm pleasuring itself to Richard’s poignant and authentic courtroom testimony.
Great characters raise the stakes immensely and as “The Social Network” first proved and “Silicon Valley” reaffirms, sitting at a computer and typing all day can be as intense as you make it.
All episodes of “Silicon Valley” are currently avaliable on HBO GO and HBO NOW.
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