3 out of 5 stars

HBO’s tech-based sitcom Silicon Valley recently returned for a fourth season, again following the trials and tribulations of start-up company Pied Piper. Currently airing on Sky Atlantic in the UK, the latest instalment sees the team of geeks and misfits continuing to seek fame and fortune with a “Middle-Out Compression Solution Making Data Storage Problems Smaller”. In layman terms, they’ve built an app that dramatically reduces file sizes in a matter of seconds.

Whilst the subject matter may not sound the most enthralling, this comedy series perfectly lampoons the absurdity of an industry constantly striving to find ‘the next big thing’ to invest in. The show’s portrayal of Silicon Valley as a hotbed of multi-million dollar deals and duplicitous business partnerships, results in plots of betrayal and double-crossing that would make George R.R Martin blush. However, rather than being part of a noble quest to avenge the death of a family member, the acts of duplicity and deceit being showcased here are often linked to the acquisition of a banal social media platform or the creation of a piece of software with dubious moral intentions. As a result, ‘The Valley’ is a world with its own unique set of standards and values which, to onlookers, seem childishly ridiculous and thus ripe for laughs.

Created by Mike Judge (Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill, Office Space), Silicon Valley has received critical acclaim and earned a cult following since hitting screens in 2014. With a strong ensemble cast, the show offers a less sneering and patronising portrayal of geek culture than the more mainstream Big Bang Theory. Silicon Valley recognises the intelligence and, indeed, brilliance of engineers and developers that’ve helped to create world-changing technology. However, its comedy rises from the notion that, no matter how academically gifted these individuals might be, they still suffer from the same character flaws as the rest of us.

Nowhere is this more apparent than within the team at Pied Piper. On the surface, they appear to be a group of meek beta-males with a shared goal to create a complicated algorithm. CEO Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleton) is a stuttering archetypal nerd, who regularly screws up his own success due to pettiness and insecurity. Programmers Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) spend most of their time bullying each other, yet both are socially awkward outside of the group and hopeless with women. Jared (Zach Woods) provides the heart and soul of Pied Piper, constantly becoming the voice of reason that steers the company away from morally reprehensible decisions. Meanwhile, Erlich Bachman (TJ Miller) is a self-styled venture capitalist with an awful track record of investing in disastrous tech which has left him stone broke, yet still tries to maintain the demeanour and persona of a successful businessman.

In the real world, this ragtag bunch of misfits would be viewed as offering no threat to anybody. However, in Silicon Valley, they’re simply up against aggrandised versions of themselves so they’re capable of being as cutthroat and immoral as those they find themselves competing against.

Season 4 opens with the Pied Piper gang utilising their algorithm to create a new chat app that can offer HD quality video, enabling them to compete with the likes of Skype and Periscope. After handing the reigns of the company over to Dinesh, Richard’s investigating whether he can create a “new internet” powered simply by cell phones. Meanwhile, Erlich is trying to gain investment for tech developed in his incubator which, amongst other terrible ideas, includes an app which can determine whether a photo of food is a hot dog or not.

Herein lies one of the major problems with this fourth year of Silicon Valley, and why it is not as enjoyable as its predecessors. For large stretches, the core cast are no longer working together, and the dynamics between them have changed significantly. In previous seasons, the group were working towards a common goal, even if their motivations may differ. In season 4, it sometimes feels as if the main characters are in completely different shows.

This season has also lacked the group having a consistent foe throughout. Although antagonists of previous seasons — Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), and Russ Hanneman (Chris Diamontopoulos) — all return for cameos, none of them stick around long enough to make a lasting impact. Keenan Feldspar (Haley Joel Osment) is introduced as an irritating happy-go-lucky VR developer in the final episodes, but the lack of a steadfast adversary means that the season feels disjointed and never flows as smoothly as it’s done in the past.

The tech issues thrown up throughout the season are certainly interesting, including social media platforms’ legal obligations to protect underage children, and the morality of companies using customer’s devices for things they haven’t consented to. However, these are never explored in detail and are simply there to highlight whether Pied Piper are currently succeeding or failing. As a result, plots get repetitive, with episodes often following a common arc: Pied Piper agree a new form of investment before a character’s greed, ego, or idiocy, ends up sabotaging it and sending them back to square one,

Another issue for Silicon Valley is the sheer volume of recurring characters. Hardly anybody’s been written out over the past three years, with the exception of Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), who tragically died in real-life during the filming of the first season. With new additions for this series and bit-part players such as Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) being given more prominence, the humour feels diluted as we get to spend less time with the core group of characters we’ve grown to love.

One of those who won’t be returning for season 5 is Erlich Bachman who, arguably, provides the majority of the show’s funniest moments. TJ Miller has recently seen his stock rising in Hollywood, resulting in memorable roles in Deadpool and the upcoming Emoji Movie, and has therefore announced that he won’t be returning. It’ll be interesting to see how Silicon Valley soldiers on in his absence and whether it can reach the heights of its earlier episodes once again.

Cast & Crew

writers: Alec Berg, Clay Tarver, Megan Pleticha, Adam Countee, Graham Wagner, Shawn Boxe, Andrew Law, Rachele Lynn, Chris Provenzano & Dan O’Keefe.
directors: Mike Judge, Jamie Babbit, Tim Roche & Clay Tarver.
starring: Thomas Middleditch, TJ Miller, Josh Brener, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Amanda Crew, Zach Woods, Matt Ross, Suzanne Cryer, Jimmy O. Yang, Stephen Tobolowsky & Chris Diamantopoulos.