Photo Credit: Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO
The golden rule of sitcom storytelling structure, derived from the hero’s journey popularised by Joseph Campbell, is that characters should change over time, but not too much. Otherwise, the show might end. And that’s why at the start of Silicon Valley season 5 – premiering Sunday, March 25 on HBO in the US, and arriving Monday in India – the folks at Pied Piper are back where they’ve been before.
Now with ample funding at their disposal, after Richard’s (Thomas Middleditch) idea of a new, decentralised Internet accidentally turned into a working concept thanks to Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) hacking into a smart refrigerator, Pied Piper needs to scale. Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle, usually busy one-upping each other, are being extremely picky with new employees. And as always, Richard finds it hard to be the boss, be it controlling the other two or getting his coders to work together, which involves a lot of dogs.
Meanwhile, newly-reinstated Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), having been rejected by Richard upon his return from the very short search-for-meaning in Tibet last season, is back to being his old self: constantly trying to undermine Pied Piper, and asserting his importance at Hooli and beyond. Early in the new Silicon Valley season, at a gala event inducting him into the Innovation Hall of Fame, he boasts about his achievements and says the ideal version of him was the man he already was.
The new season also has to tackle the absence of the other over-confident big character on the show: Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller), who was last seen in a Tibetan den where Gavin left him heavily sedated. Miller left the show under far from ideal circumstances, and the path forward for Silicon Valley turns out to be a bigger role for his enemy Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang), who slowly takes over the incubator, letting his Chinese friends take over the Pied Piper space. Yang’s more visible presence also becomes a platform for the show to talk about inclusion.
Silicon Valley, like the real Silicon Valley, is largely filled with men – most of whom are white. One of the show’s most consistent criticisms has been its handling of Asian characters and leaning into xenophobic stereotypes, including making fun of Jian-Yang’s heavy accent and tying it into his obliviousness of what makes a good app last season. In the fifth season, the show seems to be taking a step forward.
When Richard voices his concerns about Jian-Yang possibly getting control of Erlich’s share in Pied Piper, his counsel Ron (Ben Feldman) and Jared (Zach Woods) wonder if Richard has a problem with Asians, and remain unconvinced even after he replies in the negative. Later in the same episode, when a character remarks that the Pied Piper office could use “a little bit more colour”, it’s clear that he’s referring to the show and the staff.
Female characters are still very much at the periphery of Silicon Valley, though Nanjiani said earlier this week at PaleyFest that the show would delve into sexual harassment and gender inequality in the tech industry later in the season. The show’s executive producer Alec Burg added later that it’s a satire after all, which means “our job is to hold up a mirror to a real thing”. Women make up less than a third of the workforce at most tech companies, and much less in executive positions.
The fertile ground for Silicon Valley has always been in lampooning the eccentricities and absurdities of its titular industry – the status of owning a Tesla, the volatility of Bitcoin, and the fear of digital assistants always listening in are this season’s newest candidates – commenting on adjacent scenarios, such as how crowdsourcing anything is usually the worst possible idea, while showcasing the pettiness, arrested development, and juvenile behaviour of its main characters.
And that remains the mainstay in season five. Richard’s best attempts to lead Pied Piper towards their new mission are repeatedly stymied by his own shortcomings or the actions of his friends – Jared seems like the only adult in the room, as always, and the show hints at an increase in profile for the character – and Gavin trying to give it to Richard simply means Richard does it to someone else, ensuring a vicious circle.
But nothing here, in Silicon Valley’s fifth year, resembles an overhaul of the functional base code. Though Miller was once considered a highlight, his character had run out of steam given his tangential attachment to Pied Piper, and neither the show nor the other characters miss him all that much. The writers ensure there’s enough happening in every episode to keep us occupied (and laughing), while slowly doling out minor upgrades that’ll hopefully have a worthwhile impact.
Of course, not too much. Otherwise, the show might end.
Silicon Valley starts Sunday, March 25 on HBO. In India, you can stream it on Hotstar the following Monday, or tune into Star World Premiere starting Saturday, March 31.