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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Five!

I was somewhat late to the party with Silicon Valley, but I loved the show when I started watching it last year, and I quickly devoured the first four seasons.  I was so happy that I didn’t have too long to wait before season five.  As the season begins, the Pied Piper gang are hard at work on bringing Richard’s “new internet” idea to life, and they are once again locked in competition with Gavin Belson’s Hooli, who is working on a very different type of technology, Gavin’s “signature box 3”.

Season five of Silicon Valley represents an interesting point in the life of the show.  There was a comedic and creative spark to the first several seasons that isn’t quite present now — that joy of discovery of the “new” is gone now (at least for me), as the show has settled into a comfortable middle-age.  The narrative wheel-spinning is somewhat more pronounced than it was in the early years, as the show has to keep this gang of misfits struggling and failing (in order to preserve the basic set-up of the show), in a way that can feel somewhat frustrating after five years of watching these characters and wanting them to succeed.

On the other hand, this latest batch of eight episodes is fantastic, filled with some truly great and very funny comedic moments.  I love these characters at this point (even a “villain” like Gavin Belson), and it remains great fun to be in these characters’ company and to follow their continuing misadventures.  So while the show might not feel quite as fresh as it once did, there is clearly still plenty of comedic life left in this show and its premise and characters.

At only eight episodes long, season five of Silicon Valley is the shortest season since the first year (seasons two, three and four had ten episodes each), and so the season zips along at a fast clip and doesn’t outstay its welcome.  Quite the contrary, at the end of episode eight I was bummed that there weren’t more episodes to watch immediately!!

T.J. Miller was written off the show at the end of season four.  This concerned me when the news broke, as Mr. Miller had been a key member of the ensemble.  It’s usually a bad sign when main characters leave TV shows, “rats leaving a sinking ship” and all, and the show that remains is often not quite the same.  But I must say, while I loved Mr. Miller on this show, I didn’t miss him at all.  Season five still has a large and highly-skilled ensemble, and so there were plenty of characters and story-lines to more than carry the show.  It was fun to see the remaining characters each get a little extra time in the spotlight.

One of the biggest flaws with season four, in my mind, was the curious decision to have Richard (Thomas Middleditch) acting more and more unlikable.  That trend unhappily continued in season five, in a way that seriously weakened the show for me.  The audience needs to be rooting for Richard and his Pied Piper team.  But when he acts like a jerk, he deserves the bad things that happen to him.  I was surprised and pleased that the show acknowledged Richard’s bad behavior at the end of the season.  (If that moment of self-growth for Richard was what they were building to all along, then I can say that the pay-off scene certainly worked, but I don’t think the story as a whole was worth it, as I think the damage it did to the show outweighed the payoff.)  I hope that we return, next season, to the more likable underdog version of Richard from seasons one through three.

I’ve been lamenting since season two that I wished the show would give Amanda Crew’s character Monica more to do, and so I was happy that this season seemed to step in that direction.  I loved all of Monica’s scenes with Suzanne Cryer’s curt and enigmatic Laurie Bream — the two of them were great together — and I was even happier at the development of Monica’s joining the Pied Piper team late in the season.  (I was very pleasantly surprised when the show acknowledged how separate Monica has been from the main action of the show for years now, in the scene in which she brutally questions Richard’s description of the two of them as being friends.)  I’d love for Monica to continue to be more integrated with the rest of the Pied Piper gang moving forward.  Ms. Crews is great and very funny, and her presence changes up the dynamic of the all-male Pied Piper main group (I loved her interactions with Gilfoyle at the end of the season!), and so I’d love to see more of that.

Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani are both fantastic, as always, and this season gives them both a ton of great stuff to do.  Zach Woods’ Jared also gets a lot of focus this year, and he remains as hilariously weird and intense as always.  I love this character.

It was great seeing Matt Ross’ Gavin Belson back in charge of Hooli and back to being Richard’s main competitor.  Mr. Ross’ portrayal of the arrogant and oblivious Gavin seems to get funnier every season, and the writers came up with so much great stuff for Gavin this year, with the chaos surrounding his attempt to open a Hooli plant in the American heartland being a definite highlight for me.

We didn’t see too much of Big Head (Josh Brener) this year, sadly, though he did get a few nice scenes later on in the season.  (Oversized drink in hand, of course!)  The press in advance of the launch of season five made a big deal about how Jimmy O. Yang’s Jian-Yang would be getting more attention due to the absence of T.J. Miller’s Erlich, and while Jian-Yang did indeed get more screen-time than ever before, he didn’t make much of a mark for me.  I don’t find the character all that funny, and while his actions did make him a thorn in the Pied Piper gang’s sides in the early episodes of the year, by the end, Jian-Yang seemed bizarrely irrelevant to the main story of the show and Pied Piper’s success or failure.  So that seemed like a bit of a narrative mis-step to me.  (Also bizarre?  That the penis-shaped logo for Gavin’s “signature box 3” never exploded into the public relations spectacle that I’d been awaiting!  It’s weird that the set-up of that penis-logo didn’t really have any pay-off by the end of the year.)

While I think the days of Silicon Valley’s being essential viewing might be behind it, this is still a skillfully-made, very entertaining show with a terrific cast.  If more seasons are in our future, I’ll be excited for them!

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