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Josh Bids Farewell to Silicon Valley

I came to Silicon Valley late, first watching the show in 2017, around the time of its fourth season.  I loved it immediately, and I quickly caught up with those first four seasons.  I’m sad to see the show end, but I was pleased that this final seven-episode sixth season saw the show still in top comedic form, and I’m happy that the show-runners were allowed to end the series way they wanted.

After six top-notch seasons, I can certainly understand why the show-runners felt it was time to wrap things up.  I thought the show was still going strong in season five, but I could start to see the narrative wheel-spinning as the writers had to continually find ways to prevent the Pied Piper team from ever truly succeeding… but they also couldn’t ever be allowed to completely fail, because either outcome would mean the end of the show.  I don’t think this is a premise that could have continued for ten more seasons.  Six seasons feels right to me.

And so, with season six being the final season, the Pied Piper gang were allowed to both succeed and fail spectacularly.  The season begins with Pied Piper about as successful as we’ve ever seen them.  The company has grown to a huge size, with swanky offices, and Richard is called to testify before Congress about internet privacy.  It’s crazy to think the show has come so far that it’s plausible that Richard Hendricks could be called to testify before Congress!!  The idea of social-misfit Richard testifying before Congress is a beautifully genius idea, and the actual staging of that sequence didn’t disappoint.

In this final season, the show remained as funny as it ever was.  The escalating madness of Gilfoyle’s using a Gilfoyle A.I. (“Son of Anton”) to respond to Dinesh (which then winds up interacting with the Dinesh A.I. that Dinesh created) in the season premiere was as funny a story as the show has ever done.  And I howled with laughter during Richard’s episode-two confrontation with billionaire investor Maximo, during which birds continually keep ominously killing themselves by flying into Maximo’s huge window-wall.

I felt the show erred in making Richard a little too unlikable in seasons four and five, so I was pleased that pendulum thankfully swung back a little here in the final season.  This later-season Richard is still more conniving than I’d like to see, but I was glad they allowed Richard (Thomas Middleditch) to be endearingly funny again, whether that was tearing out the microphone from his table during the Congressional hearing in the season premiere or vomiting onto the plate-glass window of his office in episode three.

Long-suffering Jared (Zach … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Veep Seasons One and Two!

Julia Louis Dreyfus’s show Veep always interested me.  I was, of course, an enormous fan of Ms. Dreyfus from Seinfeld.  The cast looked great (Arrested Development alum Tony Hale’s involvement got my attention), and the political setting really interested me.  But somehow, I never got around to watching the show!  Thankfully, I have finally remedied that, tearing through seasons one and two on DVD, and I love this show as much as I had expected to.

Created by Armando Iannucci, Veep stars Julia Louis Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, the Vice President of the United States.  This political satire follows the misadventures of Ms. Meyer and her somewhat hapless team as they try to navigate the shark-infested political waters of Washington.

Julia Louis Dreyfus is superlative as Vice President Meyer.  She is so effortlessly perfect in this role.  Above all else, she is toweringly funny.  I mean, ridiculously, amazingly, note-perfectly funny.  She’s able to play Meyer as a little dim, a little self-centered, a little bumbling, but also as a good-hearted underdog who we root for as she is ignored by the president, critiqued by the press, and surrounded by a staff who don’t exactly feel like the Washington A-team.  This is an amazing balancing act.  There is a slim club of actors who get to play an iconic character on TV.  It’s almost unheard of to get to play two.  Ms. Dreyfus makes it look easy.

Anna Chlumsky (all grown up since 1991’s My Girl) plays Amy, Selina Meyer’s Chief-of-Staff.  I love Amy, a tough, smart Washington warrior who is also human and not above an occasional (ok, more than occasional) screw-up.  Ms. Chlumsky’s unflappable demeanor is comedic gold.  Tony Hale plays Selina’s body-man, Gary.  Mr. Hale is hilarious as the fiercely loyal, puppy-dog-like Gary.  This is a classic, instantly iconic TV character.  (Remember what I just wrote about how amazing it is that Julia Louis Dreyfus was able to play two iconic TV characters on two different shows?  Same goes for Mr. Hale.)  Matt Walsh (founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, who has also popped up all over the place, in films such as Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, The Hangover, Cyrus, I Love You, Man, Role Models, Step Brothers, and Be Kind, Rewind) plays Communications Director Mike McLintock, and Mr. Walsh is the show’s comedic sneak weapon.  I find the way he plays the weary and idiotic Mike to be hilarious perfection.

Reid Scott plays Dan, the young, ambitious smooth operator who joins Selina’s team in the pilot episode.  Dan starts off, by design, as very unlikable.  (We the viewers don’t like him because Amy and the rest of Selina’s team don’t like him.)  But … [continued]

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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 … [continued]

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Steven Spielberg Triumphs Again With The Post!

In 1971, the New York Times obtained a secret study prepared by the Department of Defense on the history of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967.  These documents demonstrated that a succession of Presidential administrations had been lying to the U.S. public about the war.  The Times published three articles featuring excerpts from these documents, dubbed the Pentagon Papers, before the Nixon Administration obtained an injunction forcing the Times to cease publication of the Papers.  When the Washington Post obtained the documents, executive editor Ben Bradlee and Post publisher Katharine Graham chose to defy the Nixon Administration and publish the Pentagon Papers in their newspaper.  By taking that action, they threw the future of the Post into question and risked possible jail time in a confrontation with the White House over the principle of freedom of the press that would wind up being decided by the Supreme Court.

The Post would be a magnificent film had it been released at any previous point in Steven Spielberg’s career.  But coming now, at this point in time, it is not just a great film, it is an important one.  The film is set almost forty years ago, and yet it feels like it could be taking place today.  (Change some of the names and you realize that, in fact, it pretty much is.)  The Post depicts a Presidential administration that chooses to deflect criticism by attacking the media, by whipping up public sentiment against the press and taking actions to curtail the very existence of an independent press.  It is striking to see the many way in which the story of the Pentagon Papers and the Nixon White House’s battles against the Washington Post echo the news we are reading about in the newspaper right now.  These philosophical battles for the soul of our nation that are depicted in The Post are taking place, again, right now, whether most Americans realize it or not, and the results will determine the future of our democracy.

The Post mounts a powerful defense for the central importance of a free press.  Both Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Katharine Graham) have powerful, emotional moments in the film in which they deliver stirring monologues making this point.  This is a film that every American should see.

But putting all that aside, it’s also just a dang great film.  Mr. Spielberg has taken these historical events and brought them to riveting life, and he has done it without using any showy tricks or dramatic directorial flourishes.  Everything in the film feels quiet and restrained.  Even John Williams’ score — which is excellent, of course — dials down Mr. William’s usual bombast and … [continued]

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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 … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Three

I really loved the first two seasons of Silicon Valley, a show chronicling the long road that a young engineer Richard Hendricks and his team of co-workers and friends face in trying to successfully navigate the business and technological challenges of creating and successfully releasing their new platform. (Click here for my review of season one, and here for my review of season two.)  Season three sees the show continuing to operate in peak form.  (Yes, I know I am still behind — season four aired this past spring — but I am working to get caught up!)  If anything, Silicon Valley has gotten even better as we have spent more time with Ricard and the Pied Piper team. The show remains extremely funny and clever, and with a short season of only ten half-hour episodes, it never overstays its welcome.

Once again this season puts Richard and his friends and co-workers through a roller-coaster ride of small successes and huge failures.  It’s always one step forward and two steps back with this crew and this show.  It can be a bit frustrating at times for the audience, since by this point we’ve grown to love these characters and want to see them succeed.  But the show is so consistently funny that it’s hard to complain.  Plus, watching these bumbling nerds on their Sisyphian journey is what this show is all about!

Stephen Tobolowsky’s “Action” Jack Barker was a phenomenal addition to the show’s cast this season.  Jack provided a great new foil for Richard.  I loved seeing how the show tweaked its own status quo by installing Jack as the new C.E.O. and nemesis for Richard; briefly moving the gang out of Ehrlich’s house and into spacious new offices; and setting up Jack’s “box” scheme as something for the Pied Piper folks to struggle against.  These were great story-lines that kept the Piep Piper team as underdogs while allowing the show to explore some different situations.

The show’s main ensemble was running on all cylinders at this point.  Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods are a murderers row of incredible actors and comedians.  They own these characters at this point, and each had plenty of opportunities to shine in season three.  I was a little disappointed that season 2 seemed to sideline Amanda Crew’s character Monica, and so I was glad that she was a little more involved here in season three.  (Though I am intrigued as to why the show’s creators seem to have dropped any hint of a romantic attraction between Richard and Monica.  I thought that was a sweet aspect of season one, but it’s vanished from season … [continued]

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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 … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season One!

Quite a few friends have recommended Silicon Valley to me, but for one reason or another it took me a while to find the time to start watching the show.  I am sorry I waited so long, because now I am hooked!

Silicon Valley.season 1.cropped

Created by Mike Judge (Office Space), John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, the series follows the trials and tribulations of a group of Silicon Valley programmers involved in a small start-up company.  Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) is a small fry working for a huge Google-like company called Hooli.  Like many in Silicon Valley, in his side time Richard is working on an app, which he calls Pied Piper.  It’s intended as a music app, but in creating it Richard has also created a potentially revolutionary compression algorithm.  This attracts the interest of Hooli founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), who offers Richard ten million dollars for his app.  It also attracts the interest of venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), who offers Richard a much-smaller $200,000 investment in exchange for a five-percent ownership in Pied Piper.  Richard passes on the easy money from Gavin and takes Peter Gregory’s offer, excited by the chance to build his own company.  As the series progresses, we see Richard discover that it’s a lot harder than he thinks.

I love shows and movies that explore a particular sub-culture, and Silicon Valley is a wonderful exploration of the intersection of technology and business in this particular corner of the U.S.  This is a show that I suspect people who really know this world will dig for its attention to detail, while also being completely accessible to anyone (like me) who doesn’t know much of anything about this sort of thing.

The show is fantastic, absolutely hilarious and filled with wonderful, compelling characters.  Every member of the ensemble could carry his/her own show.  As Pied Piper’s nervous, frazzled new C.E.O., Thomas Middleditch is fantastic.  I could see a less interesting version of this show in which Richard was the straight person, surrounded by all the weirdos he has to work and live with.  But Mr. Judge & co., along with Mr. Middleditch, have made Richard just as interestingly flawed and bizarre as all the other characters in the show!  But, importantly, they’ve also given him an honesty and a earnestness that makes you want to root for this character.

T. J. Miller (Cloverfield, Deadpool, Office Christmas Party) goes big, and then bigger, as Erlich, the blustery, full-of-himself owner of the incubator where Richard and his co-workers live and work.  Erlich got rich when his own app was sold for millions, and so now he fancies himself as a wise mentor … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Paul Feig’s Rebooted Ghostbusters!

Let’s cut right to the chase: the original Ghostbusters is one of the all time great movies, definitely in my top ten.  Paul Feig’s rebooted Ghostbusters can’t hold a candle to the original.  But this new film is still a ton of fun, very funny and very enjoyable from start to finish.  Mr. Feig is one of the great comedy directors working today, and mixed with this tremendous cast he ‘s created a great movie that is funny and exciting.  Ignore the haters who were all bent out of shape at the idea of an all-female Ghostbusters: this is a solid movie that is definitely worth seeing.

Ghostbusters.cropped

The idea of rebooting/remaking one of the all-time great movies is a foolhardy one.  I have been saying that for years, ever since rumors of a new Ghostbusters began floating around.  Remake BAD movies that you can improve upon!  Why hobble yourself by forcing audiences to compare your new movie, at every turn, to one of the greatest movies of all time?  It just seems insane to me.

Equally insane?  The crazy, misogynistic anger that has been out there, across the internet, at the idea of an all-female Ghostbusters.  What year is this??  Who cares whether the new Ghostbusters are male or female or whatever??  The questions should be: are they funny?  Does this new cast have a great dynamic together?  Do they create interesting new characters who you care about and root for?  Those are the questions that you should be asking.  And by the way, the answer to all three of those questions is YES, which is why this new Ghostbusters works as well as it does.

But getting back to my original point, I have been saying all along, and I still feel this way now after having seen the new Ghostbusters, that rather than remaking one of the all-time-great films, I’d have preferred had Paul Feig and this cast come together to make an original film.  That would have been more interesting to me, and in my opinion it would have given this project a better chance for greatness (rather than my constantly thinking about, while watching it, the ways in which it falls short of the original Ghostbusters).

However, that being said, this is probably as good a version of a rebooted Ghostbusters as I can imagine seeing.  I have a few quibbles, of course, but overall the movie works very, very well.  The cast is great.  The jokes work.  The visual effects are terrific.  The film successfully walks a fine line between telling the familiar type of story we expect from a rebooted Ghostbusters film while also finding some new twists and new spins to put on … [continued]