Over the past three seasons, viewers of Silicon Valley have watched Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) fight tirelessly to keep his company alive despite every possible setback imaginable. While he might have the chops when it comes to coding, his lack of business acumen and inability to sell himself (or his company) have led to a never-ending onslaught of setbacks.
When we last left off, Richard was all but certain he was going to lose control of his company, Pied Piper, along with his compression algorithm that it was built around, to his corporate nemesis Gavin Belson (the always-terrific Matt Ross). Then, in a last-minute twist of fate, the buyer was revealed to be Richard’s ally/landlord Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller), implying that things would stay the same going forward — more or less.
What season four does instead is use some internal discord among the main characters, which sets Richard off in a different direction. It’s the kind abrupt change that was always looming under the surface, but as series co-creator Mike Judge noted to me in an interview earlier this week, it was the shift that would help carry these characters through the end of the show’s run — whenever that happens to be.
It’s a refreshing new dynamic for a show that started to reveal the slightest signs of fatigue during the third season. A droll, “here we go again” kind of feeling when the stories started to hit familiar beats, or whole episodes were spent dedicated to Richard’s obsession of tabs over spaces. (Which was a great gag, just not a great episode).
Along with this new, ambitious shot of energy, the fourth season really cashes in on the fact that over the past three seasons Silicon Valley has pieced together a world so rich with supporting characters and in-jokes that it now has a wealth of material to draw from. Whether it’s the conjoined triangles of success, a maze-like server room, or Pied Piper’s hapless litigator, currently on work release from multiple sex crimes, the show has built up an ornate stockpile of recurring characters, and wields them with side-splitting precision.
The best part, though, is how in just two episodes, Silicon Valley has managed to not only promise a great fourth season, it reminds us that it’s capable of surprising its audience — even when it starts to tread on overly familiar ground.
Silicon Valley returns Sunday, April 23rd on HBO