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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Two!

I am way behind on Silicon Valley (which is currently airing its fourth season), but after watching season one last month, I quickly plowed ahead into season two.  I’m pleased at how smoothly the show entered its second season, maintaining an impressive consistency with the great season one.  This show is every bit as funny, fascinating, and filled with hilarious and painful frustrations for all of its characters as it was in its terrific initial season.

Season two picks up right after Pied Piper’s unexpected victory in “Tech Crunch” at the end of season one.  While that victory saved the company, that burst of success has quickly led to scores of new problems.  With Peter Gregory’s passing, Richard and his team have to look elsewhere for funding, which is how they find themselves in bed with the fast-talking, self-centered, expensive-car-driving Russ Hanneman.  Meanwhile, Hooli C.E.O. Gavin Belson sues Richard, claiming that Richard developed Pied Piper while still working for Hooli and that, as such, Hooli owns Richard’s compression algorithm.

Season two is a blast, hugely funny and filled with lots of great moments.  It’s also heartbreaking, as we watch Richard and his well-meaning group of friends and co-workers at Pied Piper running up against hurdle after hurdle after hurdle.  Season two makes clear that one of the main themes of the show is about how almost-impossible it is to actually succeed at creating a new tech start-up.  Far from idealizing this process, the meat of the show’s story-telling comes from exploring the many agonies and humiliations that anyone pursuing this goal has to go through.  It’s tough to watch how Richard’s every little victory soon turns into an even larger problem, but this is a central aspect of the show’s story-telling.

The death of actor Christopher Evan Welch, who played Pied Piper’s financial backer Peter Gregory in season one, was a huge loss to the show, and in my review of season one I wondered at how the show would replace him.  At first, in season two, it seemed that they chose to replace him by creating a female version of him: Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer).  Ms. Bream seemed to be just as socially awkward and abrupt as Peter Gregory was.  It made for some very funny scenes, but I admit to being somewhat disappointed that the show would replace the great character of Peter Gregory with one so similar.  I wonder if the show-runners had the same realization, because while at first it seemed that Laurie Bream would step right into Peter Gregory’s role in the show, the third episode introduced Chris Diamantopoulos as Russ Hanneman, a very different type of boss for Richard and co.  While Russ at first seemed like salvation for Pied Piper, he quickly turned into yet another obstacle for Richard to try to find some way to overcome.  Both Ms. Cryer and Mr. Diamantopoulos were terrific additions to the show’s ensemble.

Every one of the main cast-members was just as entertaining as they were in season one.  Thomas Middleditch, T. J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods are each so funny and so perfect in their role.

I loved the way season two found a larger role for “Big Head” (Josh Brener) to play!  “Big Head” felt like a minor supporting character in season one, but I loved the story they gave to him here in season two, somehow failing upwards into prominence and wealth at Hooli despite his near-complete incompetence.  Mr. Brener was so funny, really making the most of this larger spotlight for his character.

The only character who suffered a bit in season two was Amanda Crew’s Monica, who seemed to have less to do this year.  Without Peter Gregory in the show (Monica was his assistant), I guess it was harder to find a reason to include her characters in the goings-on.  This was exacerbated when, in the third episode, Pied Piper left Peter Gregory’s company Raviga and instead came under the oversight of Russ Hanneman.  I understand the writing challenges of finding a reason to logically keep Monica involved in the Pied Piper story, but still, I missed her character this year.  (I was also struck by the choice to abandon any sort of romantic relationship between Richard and Monica.  In season one there was definitely an undercurrent of flirting and romantic attraction between the two, but in this season it didn’t seem that they played that at all.  I wonder why the writers and/or actors made that choice?)

Still, this is a minor quibble and over-all, I enjoyed season two of Silicon Valley just as much as season one.  I was glad to see the show expand in length from eight episodes in season one to ten episodes here in season two.

I don’t think I mentioned him in my season one review, but I love Andy Daly’s occasional appearances as Richard’s doctor.  So funny!  I also loved Ben Feldman (Mad Men)’s work as Richard’s laid-back lawyer, Ron LaFlamme.  Mr. Feldman had some great scenes here in season two.

I also have to highlight Matt McCoy’s work as the disgraced lawyer who represents Richard as he fights against Hooli’s lawsuit in the final episodes of the season.  Mr. McCoy is a well-known character who has popped up in all sorts of great stuff over the years (most notably, for me, the “Serenity Now” episode of Seinfeld), and his deadpan delivery of all sorts of crazy dialogue in his appearances here made me laugh very hard.

The show went to some dark places with the gang all laughing at the live-stream of the travails of the poor zoo-worker who fell and injured himself, but I must admit I found those scenes to be extremely funny.  There were a ton of other great moments here in season two.  Gilfoyle and Dinesh getting “brain-raped” by a competitor company trying to suss out the secrets of Pied Piper’s compression algorithm; Gavin Belson’s bungled interview in which he winds up comparing himself to the Jews in the Holocaust; Jared’s increasingly awkward interactions with the newly hired female coder Carla; Richard’s night-sweats; the repeated promotions of “Big Head” and the subsequent frustrations of robotics pioneer Davis Bannercheck; Pied Piper’s brief association with a porn web-site and our glimpse at a porn business conference; and Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s moral conundrum as to whether or not to reveal that a beautiful girl’s stunt-driver boyfriend has made a miscalculation in his plans for a dangerous jump that could result in his death.

As with season one, season two built to an enjoyable climax with Richard’s hearing in the Hooli lawsuit and the simultaneous scramble by Gilfoyle, Dinesh, and Jared to keep their servers operating as the livestream of the injured zoo-worker’s viewing numbers skyrocketed.  It’s a thrilling series of sequences, and it’s great to see the beleaguered Pied Piper team notch a win.  Of course, that’s followed by the excruciating sequence in which Richard mistakenly texts the team to delete all their Pied Piper programming, then finds himself unable to call them back to stop them.  They sure wrung some tension out of those minutes!  Of course that all works out OK, but Richard’s triumph is cut short in the final moments with the revelation that he’s been fired as C.E.O. by Pied Piper’s board.

As such, the ending of season two is entirely consistent with the theme of its story-telling throughout: that every step forward is followed by two steps back.  It makes season two more painful than season one to watch at times, but I also think this leads to richer story-telling over-all.

With that cliffhanger, I began watching season three almost immediately after finishing season two.  I can’t wait to see where this show goes next.

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