'Silicon Valley' Season 4 Review: Pied Piper keeps pivoting, much to everyone’s dismay
Though Silicon Valley is very much a comedy — and one of the funniest ones on television, at that — the twists and turns of the series' startup company Pied Piper feels more in line with one of the network's prestige dramas. We've seen Pied Piper and its twitchy founder Richard Hendricks (an excellent Thomas Middleditch) go through the wringer so many times in three seasons, it's actually genuinely stressful to watch. As Richard's BFF Jared once eloquently said in a sleep-deprived rant in season one: To survive, Pied Piper has to pivot.
Boy, have they pivoted. In the fourth season of Silicon Valley, which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern on HBO, Richard's Pied Piper compression algorithm is finding its best use in a video chat app led by Dinesh (naturally, the only reason the app even exists is because Dinesh wanted to improve the quality of his video chats with a woman in Estonia back in season three, which backfired on him once she saw him in a higher definition). But compared to Pied Piper's previous ventures, which at one point included designing a literal box for Jack Barker, this is a promising endeavor.
In fact, the only person of the core Pied Piper team who isn't on board with the video app is Richard, who would rather chew through his nails and fingers than help Dinesh with the project. This kick-starts the initial conflict of Silicon Valley's fourth season, though as you might expect, even in the three episodes provided to the press, there are plenty of narrative shakeups along the way.
This is typically where Silicon Valley has been able to provide its best laughs — by throwing its main characters into absurd, potentially career-ending situations that require a good amount of improvisation. To that end: If there's one scene that defines the series, it's still season one's surprisingly complex, near-endless "circle jerk" gag. Season four doesn't have a moment on the level of the dick-jerk equation, but something as inoffensive as a terms of agreement for the video chat app could have catastrophic effects on the entire team.
There's also the return of several minor characters in Silicon Valley's strange universe that never feels forced, even when it's very clear the show is pandering to its audience. Case in point: a cameo featuring Russ Hanneman — or, as some viewers probably know him, the guy who accurately says of Jared, "This guy fucks!"
Jared, as per usual, is the stealth MVP of season four. Zach Woods has perfected Jared's ever-awkward cadences, and by putting Richard at an impasse with Dinesh and his video app, it challenges their friendship to a hilarious degree. When Jared insists that they shouldn't discuss work, he attempts some very misguided bro talk. "Hey, Richard, have you seen the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition? The cover model has the most lovely, enigmatic facial expression."
If there's a weak link to be had, it's still Silicon Valley's problematic treatment of the Chinese member of Erlich's household, Jian Yang. Jian Yang is typically the butt of several jokes on the show for his broken English, and while the series has found creative ways to give the character more to do than in previous seasons — such as a subplot where he rather cleverly avoids eviction from the home — the gags are noticeably lazy. For instance, when Erlich joins Jian Yang for a product pitch, Erlich ineffectively pretends to speak Mandarin to silence him. For a show whose writing almost always fires on all cylinders (seriously, that extended season one dick joke is a work of art), it's not a good look.
While there's still the lingering concern that Silicon Valley's endless twists will eventually cause some audience fatigue, the Emmy-nominated comedy deserves the benefit of the doubt until they prove us wrong. Showrunner Mike Judge has crafted a brilliant, sardonic look at the titular tech hub of the United States, and with all the drama that occurs over at the real Silicon Valley, they may never run out of fresh material to parody. As long as the laughs continue, please follow Jared's lead and pivot.
The fourth season of Silicon Valley premieres Sunday, April 23, at 10 p.m. Eastern on HBO.
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