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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Four

I was late to the party on Silicon Valley.  But once I watched season one earlier this year, I quickly fell in love and zoomed through season two (click here for my review) and season three (click here for my review).  This show is such a wonderful skewering of this very specific sub-culture, the tech start-up world in Silicon Valley, and it is so funny with such a magnificent ensemble of actors.

Season four started off just about as funny as the show has ever been.  I LOVED the idea of Dinesh stumbling his way into the position of C.E.O. of Pied Piper.  What a wonderful way to showcase the great Kumail Nanjiani!  The only thing funnier than watching Dinesh achieve power and success was watching him lose it all.  That scene in which Dinesh realizes the magnitude of the trouble he’s in, all the while we keep hearing the sound-effect in the background of new (under-age) people signing onto the app was a highlight of the series for me.

But something went awry in the season’s back half, and in the end I found that season four was the least satisfying season of the show for me.  My main complaint was the dark turn that Richard’s character took.  I understand that in a TV show they need to find new and interesting things for characters to do.  I am OK with characters changing, and I am OK with characters making bad decisions.  But Richard is supposed to be the main “every-man” character on the show who we are rooting for.  Watching him turn nasty and unpleasant, willing to lie and to push away his friends in order to succeed, was unpleasant.  I think it was an unfortunate misstep for the show to take.  It curdled the comedy for me; I couldn’t believe there was a stretch in which I didn’t find Silicon Valley to be all that funny!

I commented in my review of season three that Silicon Valley was keeping its characters in the status quo, but was doing so in so entertaining a way that I didn’t mind.  Well, a few episodes into season four, I found I was starting to mind.  Four seasons into the show, it started to seem silly to me that the Pied Piper gang couldn’t seem to succeed at anything, that they were all still living and working in Ehrlich’s house, etc.  There were lots of great new ideas in season four that I loved, such as Dinesh as C.E.O., or Richard and Gavin working together on a new project, but the show seemed to toss away those new ideas way too quickly.  I’d have preferred had Dinesh actually remained C.E.O. of Pied Piper for the whole season, or had Richard and Gavin actually been able to create a new working relationship rather than winding up as rivals again, and each back at their original respective companies, by the season finale.  Yes, I understand that there are some things that need to remain the same or the show will no longer be the show.  I get that.  But I also think that a TV show needs to have some sort of forward momentum; particularly a show like this.  This isn’t a show about people hanging out at a bar.  This is a show about a group of people trying to accomplish something.  And so by this point in the show’s run, I think the writers need to allow the characters to actually accomplish something!!  Let them get new offices and stay in them.  Let someone else become the C.E.O.  I didn’t expect to be frustrated by this sort of thing on Silicon Valley, but by the end of this season I certainly was.

I was also a bit disappointed in the way the show wrote-off Erlich (T.J. Miller’s character).  I don’t know what sorts of behind-the-scenes machinations went on, and I am unclear whether they actually knew that T.J. Miller was leaving the show when the season finale was written and shot.  (Click here for a lengthy, bizarre post-finale interview with Mr. Miller in which it’s clear that there is some ill-will between him and other members of the show’s cast and crew.)  The idea of Erlich abandoned in a Tibet opium den is funny as the way to leave that character at the end of a season.  But as the last we will EVER see of that character on the show, it’s very disappointing.  It feels like a throw-away gag, not something with the momentousness the departure of this major character deserves.  I hope that the repercussions of Erlich’s departure are better explored next season; my fear is that the character will be ignored and forgotten, which would be a shame.

What WAS good about Silicon Valley season four?  Have I mentioned that I loved Dinesh’s brief stint as C.E.O.?  I have?  OK, there was still lots more to enjoy, such as:

* Gavin Belson’s trials and tribulations with the Hooli board, resulting in his getting booted from his own company.

* The continued presence of “Action” Jack Barker and his Conjoined Triangles of Success.  Jack was a great nemesis for Richard but he was an even better nemesis for Gavin.  (And the bit about Jack getting taken hostage in China was very funny!)

* Big Head’s stint as a university professor (and his continued fondness for enormous “gulp” size drinks).

* Gilfoyle’s cat’s-eye contact lenses.

* The two-man comedy team of Erlich and Jian-Yang.

* I was glad to (briefly) see Chris Diamantopoulos as Russ Hanneman again.

* I loved the guest-appearances of Haley Joel Osment as Keenan Feldspar, a super-wealthy VR-developer.  As a kid Mr. Osment displayed enormous skill as a super-serious actor.  But as an adult he’s proven to have terrific comedic talent!  (Mr. Osment was one of the few good things about Tusk, and he was great in the little-seen but very funny mini-series The Spoils of Babylon.)

So, see, there was still a lot to love in this season!  Yes, I was a little let down by season four of Silicon Valley, but I’m still a big fan of this show.  I am glad to be all caught up at last, and I eagerly await season five.  I hope that next season is able to turn things around and bring this show back to greatness.  I can’t wait.

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