June 2, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Silicon Valley”


While not as loudly buzzy as Girls, SILICON VALLEY has been far more popular, indeed HBO’s highest-performing new comedy in quite a while (the fact that it follows the massive Game of Thrones on the network’s line-up hasn’t hurt, of course). Unlike a lot of comedies, both network and cable, that need some time to find their creative way, Silicon Valley emerged from the start with its tone and characters very much in focus.  Tonight’s crowd-pleaser of a season finale should only whet viewers’ appetites for a Season 2 that will likely be somewhat different in feel.

The finale, written by Executive Producer Alec Berg and directed by series co-creator Mike Judge, was set up as the show’s version of the final reel of a million underdog movies.  Our nerdly heroes at Pied Piper–presiding genius Richard Hendriks (Thomas Middlechurch), necessary blowhard Erich Bachman (T.J. Miller), techies Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), and back-office technocrat Jared (Zach Woods)–were sunk.  They had arrived at the finals of the yearly TechCrunch Disrupt high-tech showcase competition, but only because Bachman was beaten up by one of the judges (Bachman had slept with both of the judge’s wives) and the organization wanted to avoid litigation.  They soon learned that their billionaire nemesis Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), whose original offer for Pied Piper Richard had rejected, had successfully reverse-engineered their product and sweetened it besides, so they no longer had anything to pitch.  Unless, that is, Richard could take inspiration from the guys’ obsessive banter about an equation to measure the maximum number of hand-jobs it would be possible for Bachman to give in the presentation auditorium, and completely rethink the entire underlying technology of Pied Piper overnight…

There wasn’t any suspense to speak of, since we’ve all seen that movie, and the appeal of the finale was all in the charm with which it arrived at its predestined endpoint.  Recessive Richard, who’d spent all season avoiding public presentations–indeed, as much interpersonal communication as possible–like plague, would have to deliver the Pied Piper pitch himself, because no one else understood what he’d done, and Middlechurch was marvelous as he haltingly stumbled to his point of triumph.  It was, perhaps, a bit too foreshadowed that the on-stage demo Richard would have to perform in order to prove the revised program would be a 3D video, since we’d been told many times before that 3D was the one stumbling block for the original Pied Piper, but it was still fun to watch as the newly configured product not only beat all previous metrics for compression (the fictional “Weissman score”) but even blew through Richard’s initial promises.  The result was that Pied Piper ended the season not just very much in business, but flooded with offers for new funding.

The final minutes of the season seemed to be intended as a teaser for Season 2, as not-quite-romantic interest Monica (Amanda Crew) provided Richard with a litany of the challenges he and Pied Piper would face going forward:  hordes of new employees, lawsuits, competitors, and more.  (Not to mention that since she and Richard were back to working together, they couldn’t go out for that drink that they’d planned.)  For Silicon Valley, there will be one more:  the death of actor Christopher Evan Welch, who played Pied Piper’s original financial backer (and Monica’s boss), removes one of its most colorful characters from the mix.  More generally, Season 2 will no longer be about 5 guys sitting in Bachman’s living room and improvising a barely-existing company; instead, it will operate on a larger scale, which may affect the ramshackle charm of the series.

Still, Silicon Valley has a strong foundation in its well-drawn characters (except for Monica, who’s mostly still just “the girl”), nimble cast and clever writing.  Even as contrived a storyline as the one that had Jared transported against his will by a robot car to a shipping container, where he was imprisoned for days, was played for its lasting effect on Jared’s psyche.  The loudmouth character of Bachman is allowed some insecurity alongside his sweeping (and mostly unjustified) self-confidence, just one example of the writers’ making use of computer-nerd cliches while never overplaying their hand, allowing the characters to retain their humanity and emotions.

Silicon Valley is a deserved hit, and although its ratings may suffer a bit next season if its lead-in isn’t quite as huge, it seems likely to perform for HBO up to the limits of its own Weissman score for some time to come.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."