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‘Silicon Valley’ review: Season 4 feels familiar, but with bittersweet edge

HBO's

HBO's "Silicon Valley" returns for season 4 with stars, from left, Kumail Nanjiani, Thomas Middleditch, Martin Starr and Zach Woods. Photo Credit: HBO / John P. Johnson

THE SERIES “Silicon Valley”

WHEN | WHERE Season 4 premiere Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO

GRADE B+

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Tech company Pied Piper was effectively sunk after Richard (Thomas Middleditch) engaged a click farm in India to boost user activity on the newly released app. When venture money backed off, it was then back to that famous drawing board: Dinesh’s (Kumail Nanjiani) video chat app looks promising (right)? Meanwhile, Bachman (T.J. Miller) liquidated his stake in the website, coderag, and used the proceeds to buy out Pied Piper, with his new partner, Big Head Bighetti (Josh Brener). Jared (Zach Woods), Monica (Amanda Crew) and Bertram (Martin Starr) now look bleakly to the future, assuming there is one.

MY SAY As usual, “Silicon Valley” is actually more interesting than funny. Not that it’s not funny (to sound a little like Jared): “Funny” is inescapable whenever T.J. Miller is on screen. But “interesting” still wins out. Here’s why: Showrunners Mike Judge and Alec Berg have created an intricately detailed anthropological portrait of Silicon Valley Man, an early 21st century hominid who speaks in jargon, thinks in jargon, and dreams in jargon. Sex, food, air? Those are all of secondary consideration. If we, the viewer, must plumb the deepest psyche of this creature, algorithms are what inspire, power is what motivates, and endless discussions about “cap tables” is what excites. (Mmm, cap tables.) Who needs sex when you have cap tables? (Cap tables? An analysis of the founder’s and investors’ equity distribution. Mmmmm).

Why is this even remotely interesting or funny? Because the characters are, and through them are refracted the obsessions, peccadilloes, inanities and above all the words of what may well be the world’s most important industry — that little digital one. If “Silicon Valley” and the boys tend to repeat themselves, that may be because Silicon Valley itself is on an endless feedback loop. Going back to the days of Atari, it’s always been about money chasing the “killer app.” All “Silicon Valley” has done is find the utter absurdity in the chase. You watch this show and suspect that it never had to look far either.

The new season does indeed feel like past seasons, albeit with a slightly bittersweet edge. It would be giving away far too much to say why, but even in this insular culture, people do sometimes change. Money, power, and algorithms do have a way of shaping character. Back in the first season, “Valley” began as a cluttered dorm room (so to speak), littered with bongs and pizza crusts. By the fourth season, the bongs haven’t gone anywhere, but that pervasive sense that anything is possible — until Bachman screws it up — is largely gone, at least in the early going. Character can be “shaped” but it can also revert too, and it’s hard to imagine a newly empowered Erlich Bachman won’t revert to his permanently stoned form at some point. He almost certainly will.

But come here (as usual) for the shrewd insights about an industry and its puppet masters. For laughs, go to “Veep.”

BOTTOM LINE There’s a sense that we’ve traveled down this road paved with silicon once or twice before, but the ride is still smart, engaging and highly informative.

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