Comedy television is in a weird place right now. Meta-humor like that of Community and Happy Endings, while generally beloved, ended in both shows being canceled. The four-camera sitcom approach of Big Bang Theory and company is currently the most popular from a numbers standpoint, despite pedestrian writing and a pandering feel. Meanwhile, single-camera ensemble shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and New Girl have risen as the only viable alternative. All this makes the space occupied by HBO’s Silicon Valley unique, and more than that, absolutely necessary.
Season 3 kicked off last night with an episode titled “Founder Friendly,” picking up the pieces of a broken and shattered Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch). Richard, having just been ousted as the CEO of Pied Piper, is in a frenzy. Despite his own questionable business acumen, the company was his original idea, built on his compression algorithm with the potential to change the tech world forever. But it’s that lack of business sense that’s gotten him and the Pied Piper team into trouble from Day 1. Or as Gilfoyle and Dinesh aptly put it, “Richard is a good guy, but…” (or R.I.G.B.Y. as they abbreviate it themselves).
The whole premise of “Founder Friendly” is centered on that one acronym. Richard is a good guy, but he also took a terrible deal last season when he signed veritable crazy person Russ Hanneman on as his lead investor. Richard is a good guy, but he has no business being the CEO of a company with the potential to be worth billions of dollars. He’s a Wozniak sans a Jobs, and more often than not, that’s been the root cause of every problem Pied Piper has run up against in its brief run. To top it all off, the deal he’s offered by Leviga (his investment company) seemed almost too good to be true: He gets to stay on as CTO, would keep his shares and seat on the board, and would answer only to his replacement CEO, Jack Barker.
It’s Richard’s pride though that blinds him to the fact that he’s not going to find a better gig anywhere else. He’s sees that firsthand when he briefly considers working for another company, where his job would be coding video software that gives people digital mustaches. In the end, he reluctantly meets with Barker, who artfully maneuvers Richard out the door. We get the sense that Barker, played to perfection by character actor extraordinaire Stephen Tobolowsky, is a master manipulator, setting him up as an intriguing foil for the stuttering nervous energy of Richard.
That’s the story so far in a nutshell, and it’s one that’s backed up by the considerable talent of both the cast and writing team. Creator Mike Judge is well-established as the master of depicting the modern workplace, having done so with 1999’s Office Space, and now again in his deep-dive into the tech industry, Silicon Valley. It’s a comedic space unoccupied by anyone else on TV right now. The Office and Parks and Recreation were the last two great workplace series to grace the airwaves, and it’s left a vacuum that Silicon Valley has been more than happy to fill.
It’s not just the workplace comedy genre that the HBO series is dominating. It’s safe to say that Silicon Valley is the best comedy on television right now, and it’s not really close. Brooklyn Nine-Nine and New Girl lack a real-world feel, while The Big Bang Theory is limited by its own format. This leaves Mike Judge’s groundbreaking show atop the mountain, as a series that’s both clever with its characterization, and deft with its approach to humor. Few, if any, competitors blend both of these elements together, and with Season 3 already giving us more of the same, we don’t see any true challengers for the show’s crown.
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