At the end of season one of “Silicon Valley,” I noted in my review that “comedies often need a season to work out their tone and find their groove” and though it’s patchy, “the best is yet to come from this show.” And as far as the first three episodes of the second season of the tech valley series are concerned, Mike Judge‘s writers’ room seems to have concluded “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It should be noted from the start that the season kickoff “Sand Hill Shuffle” is probably the weakest of three episodes sent to press. Just like the first season’s debut “Minimum Viable Product,” the episode starts with a big event where our nerdy ensemble don’t quite feel comfortable. Instead of Kid Rock revving up a start-up party, the Pied Piper team, having just won TechCrunch Disrupt a few weeks earlier, are now being wooed by a venture capital firm on the field of the San Francisco Giants.
“We’re standing on the field of the World Series champions,” Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) says.
“It’s totally lost on me,” Gilfoyle (Martin Starr).
“Yeah, I don’t give a shit either,” Dinesh tosses back.
So, same as before, but clearly Judge and co. have not lost their knack for back and forth banter. Yet just like the first season, it doesn’t always work. Swinging from wild raunch to more subtle shades of humor, the show manages to navigate the balance between jokes involving literally putting balls on the table to the show’s sharpest material, which is often found in the difficulties Richard (Thomas Middleditch) has in maintaining the momentum his company has now that they are in the tech world hot seat.
I previously described “Silicon Valley” as a “coming-of-business-age” show, and that’s still the case. In season two, Richard has to find venture capital to help build a beta version of Pied Piper to present at CES without being beaten to the punch by Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) who will do anything to crush his competitor, as well as avoiding selling so much of his company that he loses his soul and other pitfalls of so many other startups who got big way too fast and flamed out hard when they couldn’t deliver on their promises.
Richard should be the heart of “Silicon Valley,” but is becoming a bit of a one-note ball of anxiety who can’t function in public. Middleditch plays it well, but at least early on, he’s not given a great variety to do or even the best lines. That falls to his number two Jared (Zach Woods), who is becoming more confident in his role at Pied Piper —combined with his adorkably reserved demeanor, his performance results in some of the biggest laugh out loud moments as he tries to fit in. His definition of “negging” and an extended running gag on the word “bro” are pretty much built to be viral hits. The rest of the team resume their slots in the ensemble without much expansion (though the arrival of Dinesh’s cousin in “Runaway Devalution” adds an interesting twist), and thus far, the brewing Jim/Pam dynamic between Richard and Monica (Amanda Crew) remains mostly on a low boil.
But the question fans might be asking about is how the show has handled the death of Christopher Evan Welch, who played Pied Piper benefactor Peter Gregory. The character passes away in the show as well, and Suzanne Cryer plays his successor Laurie Bream. Sadly, she’s not a good fit. Where Welch pretty much nailed his role as an aloof genius whose random musings eventually added up to profound insight, the character of Laurie is robotic and unfeeling. Even at his most obtuse, there was a warmth to be found in Peter, but which is completely missing in Laurie, with Cryer playing her as if she were spit out by a computer program. And that may be the point, but it doesn’t come off as delightfully oddball as much as strange, even in the context of the weirdo characters on the show (which eventually includes Russ Hanneman, a guy who got rich putting the radio on the internet and is played to aggressive douchebag perfection by Chris Diamantopoulos).
Now, it might sound as if I’m cool on the second season of “Silicon Valley,” but that’s not the case. It’s perhaps still finding its tone, but once the premise is established, it’s off and running. And as everyone knows from the dick jerk algorithm from the season one finale, when the jokes peak, they’re huge, and already in the first few episodes, “Silicon Valley” gets some big laughs while also never abandoning the complete embrace of its setting, no matter how detailed venture capital talk might get. If you liked the first season, you’ll be completely happy with where the second season is headed. And if you haven’t tried out the show, there’s probably no better time to get acquainted.