‘Silicon Valley’ Adjusts To Middle Age — And Life Without Erlich

silicon valley season 5 premiere review

A few thoughts on the Silicon Valley season five premiere, and where the show stands in middle age, coming up just as soon as I buy a fat white cadaver from a Cincinnati medical school…

Much has been written in the last few weeks about the reasons for the departure of T.J. Miller from the Silicon cast and what the loss of Erlich Bachman will do to the show. But Erlich had become a fairly marginal character, plot-wise, by the time Gavin abandoned him in that opium den, and whatever laughs the show lost by writing him out are more than compensated for by beefing up the role of Jian Yang, who, in a bit of meta plotting, is attempting to take over all of Erlich’s assets in his absence.

Erlich was one of the show’s funniest characters, especially early on, but at no point during “Grow Fast or Die Slow” did his absence feel all that palpable, even when Jian Yang was talking about him. Instead, my concerns about the premiere — and about the next two episodes, which I’ve seen but won’t spoil — were largely continuations of issues that were apparent by the end of last season: it is now exhausting to watch Pied Piper repeatedly pull success out of the jaws of failure, and vice versa; and Richard has evolved into a character I strongly dislike, which makes it even harder to sit through, much less invest in, the company’s ongoing fortunes.

Some of this is the nature of any show that makes it to a fifth season (even if the seasons are relatively short). At a certain point, the formula becomes so familiar that surprise is long gone, and the viewer is four or five steps ahead of the story, waiting for the obligatory beats where Richard or Dinesh does something stupid, then an innocent comment from Jared provides inspiration to solve the new problem, lather, rinse, repeat. Even tweaking the ratio of when the problems are of Pied Piper’s own making and when they come from outside forces — or a bit of both, as we see here when Gavin swoops in to hire all of Richard’s job candidates because Dinesh and Gilfoyle dragged their feet on hiring anyone other than their three “stallions” — doesn’t really make much difference at this point. For a comedy, this is an extremely plot-driven show, and the plot is a chore now, because the story has to continually keep the guys in success/failure limbo.

Some of it, though, is the way Richard has been written since early last season. He’s always to a degree been his own worst enemy, but the heel turn he made a year ago as he started to act like Gavin really soured a lot of his scenes and often made me root for him to fail, even if it would hurt characters I have more sympathy for, like Jared. In the season four finale, he realized he had gone too far and resolved to change, and while his behavior here (and in the next few episodes) isn’t quite as overtly malicious as it was a season ago, there’s still a much harsher edge to him, say, barging into the Sliceline offices to curse everyone out than there was to his behavior earlier in the series. (This is also an instance where the relatively good fortunes of the company make Richard being an idiot harder to take than when he was running a scrappy underdog with minimal support.)

The side characters remain terrific — my favorite joke in the premiere may be Laurie’s utter bafflement at Monica complimenting her for the birth of her fourth child only hours earlier — and the show still has a gift for constructing comic set pieces like the black site-style office Richard tried to show the guys in the premiere’s opening. But the series was already reaching the point of diminishing returns last year, and appears to have arrived there now.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His new book, Breaking Bad 101, is on sale now.