TV Midseason Check In: “Veep” and “Silicon Valley” are the best comedies on TV

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Right now, there is not a stronger two hour block of TV than HBO’s Sunday night lineup. After the cultural phenomenon “Game of Thrones,” HBO rolls out two of the best comedies on television back-to-back. Last year’s comedy champ, “Veep” continues to roll along as an awards juggernaut, while “Silicon Valley” has continued to establish itself as one of the top 10 shows on television. Back in April, I gave “Veep” a two star review, while giving its running mate “Silicon Valley” a 4 star review. I stand by my reviews, but with four more episodes down, we’re checking in with each of the shows at the mid-season point.

First up is “Veep,” which has done a lot to make up ground for the season. While I thought the pilot was overly focused on Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the show has really spread the wealth since that time. In particular, Timothy Simmons and Sam Richardson have been dynamite this season. With the end of the last episode, it appears that showrunner David Mandel’s team have singled them out as a combo to watch moving forward.

Tony Hale is continuing his outstanding performance on the show, and still has some of the best moments of the show on an episode to episode basis. Hugh Laurie is still cruising as the VP candidate Tom James. Recent addition John Slattery has also given himself an edge in the Guest Actor race with some great performances. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the season to date is that we may have already seen Louis-Dreyfuss’ Emmy episode in “Mother.” It’s likely she’s got another great performance this season, but it’s unlikely an episode can give her the ability to showcase the range and emotion present in the episode. If you want a snapshot of the show at its best, “Mother” is certainly a great showcase.

However, the show still has some shortcomings. I’m not really sure what to make of how the show is using Reid Scott. They’re letting him be as sleazy as always, but his character’s lack of development has been somewhat of a burden this season. He’s not as funny as the combo of Gary Cole and Kevin Dunn, and he’s played second fiddle in arcs he should have led, in favor of using Simmons and Richardson. While his time with Laurie has been fun, I’m not sure he’s even a top 8 character on the show right now, despite the fact he’s getting the screen time of one.

TJ-Miller-Zach-Woods-Thomas-Middleditch-Kumail-Nanjiani-and-Martin-Starr-in-Silicon-Valley-Season-3Meanwhile, “Silicon Valley” has gone from a very good show, to one of the best on television. Mike Judge’s satire of the tech industry has been on a “Game of Thrones” level run. The show has continued the excellent run it had in season 2, but has found a way to give some of its characters more to do this time around. The biggest winner is Thomas Middleditch, who spent the last couple seasons as a reclusive, shy, and submissive character. However, after the events of season 2, Middleditch has been given the ability to give Richard Hendricks levels of complexity that were missing in the last couple seasons. This should hopefully get him into the Lead Actor comedy conversation, and with the rest of the ensemble, the series is functioning as one of the best on television.

What has taken “Silicon Valley” to next level status, however, is the way in which life and art have begun to mirror each other.  As Maureen Ryan of Variety pointed out this week, Peter Thiel’s funding of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker draws parallel’s to Galvin Belson (Matt Ross) scrubbing negative press from the internet. The series has done an excellent job at identifying real life problems in Silicon Valley and exploiting them for satire. However, their ability to predict issues and happenings in Silicon Valley has given the show a must-watch quality missing from other comedies.

All in all both shows have done an excellent job this season, and have clearly established they are two comedies to beat in the Comedy Series category. “Transparent” may be the only series that could top these two, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens as the race continues.

Midseason Scores

“Veep”: (★★★½)

“Silicon Valley”: (★★★)