TV Review: “Silicon Valley” (Season 3)

Rating: B+
Runs: Sundays at 10:00 PM on HBO/HBO NOW
Starring: Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr
Created by: Mike Judge, John Altschuler, Dave Krinsky

In one of the first gags of this latest season of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” an angry Richard (Thomas Middleditch), speeding down the road in the dark, is suddenly forced to hit the brakes before slamming into some creature running across the freeway. “Did I just hit a deer?” he nervously asks Erlich (T.J. Miller). “No, damn it!” the latter exclaims before getting out of the car to take a closer look at the deer-shaped robot lying in the road. “Fucking Stanford robotics!”

And just like that, we’re back to one of the best parodies of the crazy world of contemporary digital innovation. However, there are some changes to get used to this time around. Richard, the CEO and driving force behind Pied Piper, has been forced out of his position as CEO by his own board of directors. Consigned to the role of CTO, with his ego bruised and not even the phallic logo of Pied Piper left under his firm but gentle hand, he must now contend with the new CEO of Pied Piper, Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), even as Hooli and other competitors continue to look on greedily.

As a narrative shift, this was perhaps an inevitable change. “Silicon Valley” built itself on a David versus Goliath foundation of Pied Piper overcoming the reach of its greedy “parent” company, Hooli. The catch to this setup is that, if their struggle is stretched out too long, it becomes boring and forced. Yet if won outright, the show loses all its drive and heart. There’s little wry joy or humor to be found in a show about a bunch of highly successful techies sitting on a mountain of VC funding.

By splitting itself up between Pied Piper’s internal war and its continued external competition, the show does seem to suffer some loss of energy and focus. But this necessary shift by no means feels forced or fatal. Creators being kicked off of their own companies is not an uncommon occurrence in the world of tech, as the legacies of Steve Jobs at Apple and Elon Musk at PayPal can attest to. Mike Judge and his fellow writers should find plenty of material there to mine as this season progresses.

In terms of using real examples to fuel the humor of the show, Judge is as strong a writer as ever this season. In the first episode, Richard finds himself courted by a powerful and lauded high-tech startup. Of course, it turns out that their breakthrough, multimillion-dollar technology consists of adding photorealistic 3-D mustaches (including a Tom Selleck option) to videos in real time, a clear reference to some of the absurd social media innovations that companies like Snapchat have been adopting recently.

The real heart of “Silicon Valley,” however, is still the array of stellar comedic performances it puts on the screen every week. And in this department, little can be criticized. The always brilliant Stephen Tobolowsky makes a welcome addition to the well-formed dynamic in the regular cast. Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh’s (Kumail Nanjiani) shtick as dueling engineers luckily sees no sign of slowing down, especially when it’s accompanied by the awkward stylings of Jared (Zach Woods).

While there might be some hiccups starting this season off, “Silicon Valley” is poised to prove yet again that it’s one of the funniest shows on television. Even ignoring all else, its ability to deliver so many laughs with the repetition of a single word should be admired: “Aviato.”

Three episodes watched for review.