A review of the Silicon Valley season finale — and season four as a whole — coming up just as soon as my username is “password”…
In my review of the season premiere, I noted that the longer Silicon stuck around, the harder it would be to avoid being repetitive with the way the guys constantly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and/or do juuuuust enough to survive utter catastrophe. As it turned out, season four did find an entirely new way for the guys to screw things up.
It’s just one I strongly disliked.
Having Richard gradually turning into Gavin without even realizing it — sleeping with another man’s fiancee, lying to everyone, sneaking malware onto all the Hooli phones, changing that guy’s screensaver to read “Poop Fare,” then in the finale risking Big Head’s job while chasing away Jared and Dinesh and Gilfoyle — could have been an interesting character arc if the show seemed genuinely interested in going dark for a long time. Instead, it played out more as a momentary thing, with Richard being scared straight at the end and vowing to do better from here on, and with Gavin himself returning to power at Hooli to resurrect the show’s original Richard vs. Gavin dynamic.
I’ve never been a believer that a show needs likable characters to be good, but this one probably does, at least at the very center. Gilfoyle can be cruel, and Dinesh can be weak and desperate, and Erlich (more on him in a bit) can be a self-destructive windbag, but on some level we have to want to see Richard and Pied Piper succeed, or else it’s just the constant stumbling of a jerk who deserves every cruel twist of fate that comes his way. A lot of this year was unpleasant to watch, particularly these last few episodes, and I felt genuinely annoyed when the show went full Entourage — instead of its usual anti-Entourage approach — by having everything work out for the gang in the end thanks to Gilfoyle’s hack of Jian-Yang’s smart fridge. As frustrating as it can be sometimes to see Pied Piper fail just because the show is reluctant to change its formula too much, this felt worse, because it was a win Richard in no way deserved, just so we could hit reset on the status quo… again.
It seemed early this season that the show might finally be heading in an entirely new direction by having Richard team up with Gavin, while the rest of the guys worked on Jian Yang’s app. But by midseason, everything was back to business as usual, and then ugly for a bit, and back to business as usual again after that. It’s still often a very funny show, the actors are still great — Zach Woods is still a comic gift as Jared (and/or as Ed Chambers), and part of what made the Dark Richard arc so uncomfortable was how well Thomas Middleditch committed to it — but something has to change overall, soon.
We’re going to get at least one big change next year with Gavin stranding Erlich in Tibet for the next five years. Our own Steven Hyden wrote a tribute to T.J. Miller’s work as Erlich, whom he described as “like Han Solo as played by John Belushi and scripted by Aaron Sorkin after several tequila shots.” Miller leaves a big comedy void for the show to fill, but also a big opportunity to shake things up a bit. As much as I love Erlich — and particularly his rivalry with Jian-Yang — he had become one of the symbols of the show’s lather-rinse-repeat qualities. Other than the brief, glorious rise and fall of Bachmanity, Erlich’s plot function on the show has primarily been to screw things up for himself and Richard. Presumably, the show will be adding another character or two, or perhaps beefing up the presence of a supporting or recurring player like Laurie or Russ Hanneman(*). But as much as the show will miss Erlich’s comic voice, his exit provides a very easy way to differentiate the new season from what’s come before.
(*) In general, I’m a less-is-more guy with Russ, but full credit: the second we heard multiple women giggling in the background of Jared’s apartment, I thought of the exact Russ line that Richard quoted at the end of the scene.
Joke-for-joke, this is still one of TV’s best comedies. But there’s also that pesky matter of story, to which Silicon devotes so much time that it’s hard to ignore when it keeps going to the same two or three places, or when it makes our heroes unbearable. I’d like to think the show will be bold enough to shake things up next season, but the last scene between Gavin and Richard has me fearing business as usual.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org