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‘Silicon Valley’ returns as strong as ever

Season five promises new twists, same excellent humor

<p>The fifth season of HBO comedy "Silicon Valley" is off to a promising start.</p>

The fifth season of HBO comedy "Silicon Valley" is off to a promising start.

“Yes — Erlich Bachman is dead,” Jian Yang (Jimmy Yang) tells Pied Piper’s company attorney in the fifth season premiere of “Silicon Valley” on HBO. 

When viewers last saw Bachman (T.J. Miller) at the end of the previous season, he was alive and well on an extended vacation in Tibet, but that doesn’t matter to the shrewdly scheming Jian Yang. For several seasons, he’s been a minor character, but now appears to be planning to take over Bachman’s position as the hilarious odd man out among the startup’s core group. 

Yang’s rise to prominence is just one of the promising changes “Silicon Valley” offered in its newest episode, “Grow Fast or Die Slow,” which aired Sunday night. The show, now in its fifth season, has always been a clever satire of the Silicon Valley culture, calling out the eccentricities and hypocrisies of the tech world with a sharp wit. Based on the recent premiere, the fifth season will be no exception. 

For the uninitiated, the show follows Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), the genius CEO of Pied Piper, and his loyal coworkers — Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Jared (Zach Woods). They have a revolutionary, earth-shaking compression algorithm that could reshape the entire internet — if they could just get funding and stop tripping over themselves long enough to get it on the market. 

This season is the most promising yet for the Pied Piper crew. They’ve finally secured millions in funding from a reliable venture capitalist firm, have a plan to use their algorithm to create a new, decentralized internet and finally have their nemesis, tech billionaire Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), on the defensive. Yet success, as Richard learns, comes with its own challenges — he ends the episode vomiting from anxiety after trying unsuccessfully to make a welcome speech to his newly enlarged staff of coders. 

This new role reversal — in which Richard and Pied Piper actually show promise and Belson fears he’ll be made obsolete — promises a fresh dynamic for the fifth season. Part of the show’s charm has always been the David vs. Goliath struggle, with the tiny Pied Piper trying to unseat Belson and the massive Hooli — the show’s stand-in for massive tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook. But the show’s writers have done an excellent job of keeping the plot moving despite Pied Piper’s many missteps, and it’s exhilarating to finally see the company moving in the right direction. 

The show has always been known for its spot-on accuracy in critiquing the eccentricities and excesses of large tech companies and the obscenely rich leaders behind them, with Belson being the perfect example. Last season, he went on a Sabbatical to reconsider his work at Hooli and his future. 

“I toured the wonders of the world, seeking inspiration from mankind’s greatest achievements,” Belson explains at a ceremony for the Innovation Hall of Fame. His epiphany? “What I have built is a far greater achievement than any of the ancient world,” he concludes. 

But even beyond the show’s biting satire of the real Silicon Valley, it’s built such a cast of bizarre, hilarious characters that it’s impossible not to enjoy. Yang, now in the spotlight, offers a bafflingly hilarious plan to ship a white man’s body back from Asia to serve as Erlich’s cadaver, in his signature deadpan. Dinesh’s response: “Not one word of that made sense.”

This sort of quirky, niche humor is exactly what fans have come to expect, and it shines through in the new premiere as much as in any previous season — Jared continues to share disturbingly funny details of his childhood, and the company hires a staff of three aggressively average-looking coders who they continually refer to as “stallions, each more magnificent than the last.” 

It’s impressive to see a show so surprising yet so consistent. Even after four seasons, the comedy hasn’t stagnated — the writers continue to bring fresh twists without ever deviating from the oddly specific, inexplicably hilarious style for which the show is so beloved by so many. It’s true to life in its satire of the tech world, yet outrageously far-fetched at the same time. It’s comfortable and familiar in its cast of characters, yet always unexpected in its surprising twists and turns. If the premiere is any indication, “Silicon Valley’s” fifth season will surely meet the high standard the show put forward with its first four.