When it comes to chasing your dreams, there’s a fine line between crazy and courageous, and the fast-moving, boom or bust world of Silicon Valley — satirized in HBO’s award-winning comedy of the same name — blurs the line into obscurity. Over three seasons, Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and his friends have seen more extreme ups and downs while trying to monetize their landmark algorithm than most people experience in their lifetime. Entering Season 4, they’ve got a shot at evening things out and making good, stable money.
But is that enough? Is stability what these men, and Richard Hendricks, in particular, are really chasing? Would they be happy if they were millionaires, coasting through life, free from the pressures and thrills of the chase? That each character would likely answer differently gives you an idea of where “Silicon Valley” is headed in Season 4, but simply by posing the question, Mike Judge and his writing staff blow up the status quo presented as a happy ending to Season 3 and set their characters on divergent new paths of self-discovery.
In last season’s finale, we saw Monica (Amanda Crew) and Big Head (Josh Brener) join the Pied Piper team as Erlich and his partner bought the company for $1,000,001, keeping it out of Gavin Belson’s cluthches and giving Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Richard, and Jared (Zach Woods) the chance to expand on the success of their video app. The finale half-hour trimmed a lot of fat, eliminating big arcs for tertiary characters and honing the story to those under Erlich’s roof.
Season 4 picks up shortly after this stage, as the gang faces a few unexpected challenges to gaining funds; namely, Richard and his history as a reckless CEO. Struggle breeds unrest, and the united team sees internal shifts that drive new dynamics and disparate desires. Judge’s decisions aren’t so much a reversal of what happened in Season 3 as they are a localized combustion meant to broaden the new season’s possibilities without scattering the group.
Still, it’s a risky venture, and one that mirrors its central character. Richard and “Silicon Valley” have had a taste of success, and neither will settle for anything less than more. Richard blew his peers away with his record-breaking algorithm, and “Silicon Valley” has steadily earned more and more accolades from the TV industry. Neither the character nor the series will be content with producing the bare minimum or even repurposing what they’ve already done.
That means balancing even bigger ideas (of passion and responsibility) with the show’s core comedy. Dinesh and Gilfoyle hate each other, and watching them rip each other is a treasured tradition the writers know they can’t abandon. So how can that beloved hate gel with the new world order? Episode 2 has your answer. Similarly, Erlich’s brash nature requires a regular foil for the full effect of his jokes to hit home. In the past, he’s sought out Richard and Big Head for his passion projects, but now he needs someone new, and he gets a good one.
A lot of these pivots will feel familiar because the dynamics are only shifting, not being upended. But what makes Season 4 stand out is its renewed focus on the dangers of ambition. Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) delves further into pettiness as he feels things out with his new business partner, Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky). Big Head keeps falling ass backwards into next-level opportunities. The Pied Piper crew tries to play it safe, but there is no safety in Silicon Valley. And then there’s Richard, who’s torn between all these examples: What’s the best way to live your life? For power? For money? For yourself?
Not all of these big questions blend seamlessly with the need for big laughs, and the balance between the two isn’t always there. But as Judge seeks a fresh formula for success through Richard’s own quest, “Silicon Valley” becomes a bit more thoughtful and a bit more ambitious itself. Time will tell if they’re too crazy for their own well-being, but the series is plenty fun to watch as it figures things out.
“Silicon Valley” Season 4 premieres Sunday, April 23 at 10 p.m. on HBO.