Arts tv review

Tech startup Pied Piper finally moves up in the world

‘Silicon Valley’ is back with season five

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Jared (Zach Woods), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and Richard (Thomas Middleditch) remain in the tech startup Pied Piper team in HBO's series 'Silicon Valley.'

Silicon Valley
Season 5 Episodes 1–5
Created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky

Last year, I covered an interview with Josh Brener, who plays Bighead for Silicon Valley season four. Now that season five has come in full swing, I’m excited to cover this series again. Critically acclaimed series Silicon Valley centers around young CEO Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and the ups and downs faced by his tech startup Pied Piper, a company that has now pivoted from data compression to a “new Internet.” Since T.J. Miller left the series last season, Erlich Bachman is no longer in the show, but the Pied Piper posse of Donald “Jared” Dunn (Zach Woods), Dinesh Chugtai (Kumail Nanjiani), Bertram Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), and their stallion coders fill out the rest of the main cast with great chemistry and laughs as demonstrated for four seasons now.

The first episode, "Grow Fast or Die Slow," thrusts us into the aftermath of last season. On the brink of disaster, the Pied Piper of season four ends on a last-minute save: their “new Internet” surviving through smart fridges around the nation. This season, they need more coders to help build their new Internet and start to hire staff. Power plays are expected: Gavin Belson still seeks vengeance from last season and hires all the prospective staff from Pied Piper. Richard, now desperate for staff, lives up to the onus of becoming an “asshole” CEO as Erlich so eloquently put a few seasons ago. Richard lies to the CEOs of Optimoji and Sliceline, who then team up against him, only for him to overwhelm Sliceline with pizza orders, and acquires both teams of Optimoji and Sliceline. As he attempts to deliver a speech to them, Richard ends up vomiting in a panic attack. One asshole move and an embarrassing situation mark a solid start to a hilarious season to come.

If the first episode is when Richard has to sell his soul to save his company, then the second and third episodes are  his redemption. Their structure is simple: Richard makes a mistake, and then he resolves it. In the second episode, "Reorientation," Richard reminds us he is a talented coder, period. The two coding teams are not working together and have mutual hatred of Richard. When they threaten to leave, Richard single handedly codes what would have taken the team four days to accomplish, earning their respect and uniting the teams. The redemption arc continues to the third episode, “Chief Operating Officer,” when Jared introduces Richard to the company Quiver. Richard falls for the charismatic, morally dubious COO of Quiver, Ben Burkhart, who Jared warns is untrustworthy, and ignores CEO Dana, who Jared trusts. In the same episode, Pied Piper faces crisis due to the smart fridges (sticking your new startup idea on every fridge across the country isn’t legal) and Gilfoyle, who hacked the fridges last season, faces  risk of imprisonment. To Jared’s disappointment, Richard agrees with Ben’s advice: sacrifice Gilfoyle and save the company. While Richard is wooed away by Ben and considers Ben to be their COO, Jared and Gilfoyle find out that the smart fridges can record data from homes, information which Jared uses to strike a deal forcing the fridge company to drop charges on Gilfoyle and use Pied Piper services in the future. When Richard realizes Ben is a snake who easily betrays Dana to join him, he rejects Ben and promotes Jared to Chief Operating Officer.

The season starts to lose steam as the valley turns extreme in the fourth and fifth episodes, "Tech Evangelist” and “Facial Recognition,” respectively. These two are structured around twisting our expectations, but both feel forced. The newly minted Octopipers — an unfortunate name — join the new Internet, dubbed the Pipernet, as its first eight companies. One of the companies is a gay dating app, but that’s not the problem; the problem is that the app’s CEO, DeeDee, is Christian. It’s amusing, but when Richard’s lack of tact outs DeeDee’s religious beliefs, blowing off a deal with the company K-Hole, the episode seems far-fetched and unrealistic. The fifth episode, “Facial Recognition,” also plays with the audience’s expectations when Pied Piper must offer their services to A.I. company, Eklow Labs. When Eklow’s humanoid robot, Fiona, goes rogue after gaining access to the Internet via Pied Piper, I wasn’t quite sure I was watching the same show.

Both Pied Piper’s crew and the Silicon Valley television show itself have evolved over the past four seasons, but this season so far feels more of a hit or miss. Each episode seems self-contained, centering around a running gag with a twist that sometimes fall short. This makes me ask: how much is left of Silicon Valley that we haven’t already made fun of? The show works best when satirizing the hypocrisies of a real-world industry, one that champions making the world a better place while lacking ethical practices, and little dreamers that rush to California with idealistic visions only to fail in their startups or to resort to semi-legal decisions. The show seems to turn itself away from these themes and focus on the hijinks of our main cast and the process of building a new company. The show’s entertainment value is still top notch, but its creative fuel might be waning in the middle, the trend of its past seasons. Onwards, we go; hopefully, the pieces laid in the first half will pay off in the season’s second half.

Silicon Valley is available on HBO Go and HBO Now.