“Release me, Richard. Release the Kraken.” || “I’m gonna do the presentation myself.”
At the risk of starting every review on this site with a small dose of hyperbole, I’m going to go out on a limb and wager that Season 1 of HBO’s Silicon Valley potentially ranks as the most impressive and consistent debut comedy season I’ve ever seen.
Let me be clear – other remarkable comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks and Recreation, and Louie have each had seasons that can arguably be considered all-time classics, and as of now, I’m not considering Silicon Valley to be at the same level.
But when one considers just how firm of a grasp the show’s creative team – namely, creator Mike Judge – had on its characters from the very beginning, it’s hard to recall many other shows that were able to get off to such a strong start immediately out of the gate. More importantly though, Judge and Co. were able to maintain control of the show’s tone with a ridiculous amount of confidence throughout these eight episodes – seamlessly fluctuating between moments of profound crudeness, pure idiocy, and genuine compassion that very rarely felt false or unearned.
And when you cast your comedy ensemble and show up with Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, Zach Woods, and the remarkable Christopher Evan Welch, it might be pretty damn near impossible to go wrong. Throughout the run of the first season, this cast managed to expertly sidestep the enormous wealth of nerd-stereotypes that were bound to plague material of this nature, while still being able to inject an extraordinary variety of realistic and hilarious neuroses that felt incredibly distinctive. Add in a couple extra degrees of filth –embodied, for example, by a graffiti image of Nanjiani’s character, Dinesh, doing the Statue of Liberty doggy-style – and ultimately, Silicon Valley makes for a show that is able to mercilessly drag its characters through the mud (or, you know, Hell) time and time again, while simultaneously doing so with an astonishing amount of sympathy and pathos.
Thomas Middleditch really deserves a lot of credit for doing such a fantastic job all season, rarely overdoing Richard’s inherent awkwardness while believably conveying his unexpected brilliance. I’ve always found T.J. Miller to be an insufferable tool, and somehow, Mike Judge found the perfect way to repackage those exact attributes into the incredibly-realized character of Erlich Bachman (his stilted pronunciation of “Aviato” is going to haunt me all year). Even as a huge fan of Martin Starr’s immense body of work, I initially worried that his portrayal of Gilfoyle would be too lazy and similar to all of his recent work – instead, the extra shading provided by his devotion to Satan felt hilarious, fresh, and made for an extremely reliable running gag. Zach Woods also ran the same risk at first – to me, every guest role he’s played on TV has been a continuation of Gabe from The Office – but the show’s unwavering commitment to torturing this already-tortured man(?) to no end contributed an admirable and necessary degree of dark comedy to the show. And I was so incredibly glad to finally see Kumail Nanjiani – one of my favorite comic presences for years now – with a regular role on such a great show. His back-and-forth with Gilfoyle all season was pitch-perfect, and his “gay for Gilfoyle’s code” reaction was easily one of the season’s many highlights.
And in the end, the way these characters were able to shift between putting each other down with Veep-worthy dialogue and coming together for the good of Pied Piper made for one hell of a season of TV – hysterical, addictive, and fundamentally sweet.
Regarding the finale, I cannot emphasize enough how hard I was laughing at the scene in which the Pied Piper team resigns themselves to a thorough analysis of how long it will take Erlich to personally jerk off all 800 members of the TechCrunch audience. And make no mistake – I really think the scene serves as a perfect culmination of the tone and arc of the entire season. Having Richard’s huge Eureka Moment occur as he watches his friends mime alternative masturbation techniques masterfully merges the show’s abundant crudeness with its earnest underdog story roots, and the sight of Richard calmly and confidently typing away on his computer feels 100% earned. Ultimately, I think the scene rings more true than the actual TechCrunch presentation (in which everything goes a little too well for the Pied Piper gang, when compared to the rest of the season) – it allows to us to really see Richard’s growth, and again, there’s an underlying sense of sweetness and sincerity to be found in Erlich, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle’s “teamwork.”
What an insanely strong series debut. The pilot originally had me excited to see what would happen in the next episode, and no question, the entire season had the exact same effect on me. There’s a lot of story left to tell, and I can’t wait to spend more time with these characters next year.
– I love the fact that Pied Piper didn’t earn their way to the TechCrunch Finals, but merely got there because Erlich threatened to sue. This show taught us over and over again that these guys have no business being in the big leagues, and it is completely fitting that they would only make it to the Finals stage on a technicality.
– Closing the season on Richard vomiting (yet again) makes for a great tonal grace note to cap off the whole season. It undercuts the confidence and victory that comes earlier in the episode, and grounds Richard’s season-long growth with a little dose of reality. Great scene to close on.
– The loss of Christopher Evan Welch – and with him, the fascinating and strange character of Peter Gregory – halfway through the season was completely tragic, and I think the show lost someone who was truly singular and special. I was a fan of Welch’s work ever since he appeared in AMC’s short-lived Rubicon, and it really feels so unfair to have lost him after he delivered what was sure to be his breakout performance.
– It should be noted that on the supporting-characters’ end of the spectrum, the show suffered from a pretty noticeable lack of depth. For instance, it wasn’t until last night’s finale that I finally realized that the lone kinda-regular female character was named Monica – upon revisiting the quick notes I scribbled during the absolutely sweet scene between her and Richard, I realized that I had exclusively acknowledged her character as “Female”… Problematic, to say the least. Furthermore, Richard’s friend Big Head was given a few amusing things to do in the early run of episodes, and I was originally really interested in what his arc for the season might be. Instead, the tension involved with his move to Hooli dissolved fairly quickly, and he spent the rest of the season relegated to the sidelines.