“Silicon Valley” operates in an interesting place in the pop culture world of 2016. While the show is a two time nominee for Outstanding Comedy, none of its actors have received an Emmy nomination yet. At the same time, its seen as one of the most overdue shows for nominations, despite the fact that the show has only aired a total of 19 episodes (if you include tonight’s) for major award recognition. It is not hard to understand why when you watch it, because at times it embraces the traditional sitcom format of one liners and ridiculous gags, while other times the show progresses an increasingly complex but attainable narrative. With the beginning of season 3, it is clear that Judge and his all star writing team know they might have the best comedy on television.
“Founder Friendly” picks up in the closing moments of Season 2, a scene which left Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) fired as CEO of his own company. Immediately, Richard is joined by Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) as they go to Raviga to try to take back the company. However, Richard is met with a counteroffer: instead of being fired outright, he is offered the position of CTO of Pied Piper.
The set-up for the episode does an excellent job of refreshing the continuity of the show. At the same time it helps to complete Richard’s feelings of anger and inadequacy that were tied to both Hooli’s almost hostile takeover, and the events that former investor Russ Hanneman put them through. Middleditch’s anger is simmering in the episode, but it allows him to bring out aspects of Richard that the audience hasn’t really seen yet. While several moments throughout the episode remind us of the vulnerable person Richard is, there is also an edge to him that feels new and exciting.
Meanwhile, Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) at Hooli makes an appearance at a conference for the company. It appears early on that Belson is resigning, only for the scene to pull a 180 and ends with Belson laying off the entire Nucleus division. As the episode progresses, the series continues to comment on the importance of media in the tech world, and how the right spin can alter one’s perspective of an action or event. Belson is labeled “brave” for firing his employees, and the scenes in question feel a little too real for comfort at times.
T.J. Miller is back as well, and again showcases his high level comedic chops by using several types of comedy. Not only does he continue his strength as a one-liner king (“Jesus Christ- he’s the CEO of the World. Ever heard of him?”) and insult comedy through a string of old man jokes, but he also provides solid physical comedy as he attacks a robotic deer that Richard hits with his car. Miller has been one of the funniest comedians working for the last few years, and the premiere might be his best showcase yet.
Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani also continue to harvest laughs from their awkward and slightly homoerotic friendship as Gilfoyle and Dinesh. They have the best chemistry on the show for sure, and Mike Judge is certainly willing to exploit it in any way possible. They have a few scenes deciding how to progress through a possible future with Richard, and in doing so, they showcase their chemistry to the max. They invent the acronym RIGBY to save time (“Richard is great, but y’know…”) to expedite trash talk, and it fits so well in their characters that the phrase could be a standout for the season.
Silicon Valley made strong use of its guest stars as well, with the best role going to Matt McCoy reprising his role as Pete Monahan, a.k.a. Richard’s troubled lawyer from the arbitration case. McCoy is back in jail, and he continues to have some of the best lines of the episode, even with dramatically less screentime. “Action” Jack (played by Stephen Tobolowsky) will obviously be an important character moving forward, and while me may not be a code man like the Pied Piper team, he clearly developed some social engineering skills over the years. He can play to a room like nobody, and is able to win over both Richard and Erlich by stroking their egos. While he may play a mentor to the team, he also poses a threat to the dynamic they’ve built. I expect him to continue to massage egos to his benefit, but eventually its going to lead to some interesting places. With the team in place, I’m ready to see where that journey leads.
However, even with the stellar cast, Silicon Valley is at its best when its utilizing visual and topical humor to its benefit. Luckily, this episode had many scenes that utilized both to solidify the jokes it wanted to tell. The show continues to have a lot to say about the current state of technology, with plots revolving around mechanical deer, a company developing a mustache app (similarly built like Snapchat’s skins), and even an new opening credit sequence that labels both Uber and Lyft as bubbles waiting to pop. Judge is a smart show runner, and by crafting a show that can be simultaneously funny to those inside and out of the tech world, he likely has the strongest show of his career.
If you’ve enjoyed the past couple seasons of Silicon Valley, than the premiere serves as a solid episode back into the show, one that will likely go down as one of the funnier episodes. If you’re new, it’s a great time to jump on board as Judge takes us down another Silicon Valley path. The show could have easily waked into “The Social Network” storyline that had been laid out for it, but it appears that they’ve temporarily placed that plot to the side. If the show keeps coming out as strong as it was tonight, than it’s running mate “Veep” might need to be scared come Emmy season.
Silicon Valley airs on HBO on Sunday nights at 10 PM. It is also available to stream on HBO GO and HBO NOW.