After months of speculation, Sunday night on HBO is where we’ll finally get an answer to 2015’s biggest cliffhanger: what’s become of the long-haired bastard and incompetent leader of men known as Erlich Bachman? Sure, the season premiere of Game of Thrones is going to be sucking up most of cable TV’s oxygen this weekend (dragon fire and winding monologues really work one’s diaphragm), but the post-Thrones return of HBO’s funniest hour of programming means you’ll want to save some of that O2 for laughing. The latter half of this block, Silicon Valley, opens its third season with a war for a killer app that’s as sidesplitting as it is cutthroat.
Unlike partner series Veep, which returns sans creator Armando Iannuci, Silicon Valley is going through a restructuring that’s purely fictional. Last season ended with Zuckerbergian code monkey Richard (Thomas Middleditch) getting ousted as CEO of his own company, Pied Piper. Mere hours earlier, Richard’s managerial incompetence indirectly saved his game-changing technology from being sued into submission by megacorporation Hooli. As in Veep, Iannuci’s sister series The Thick of It, and many a workplace comedy before them, today’s solutions are the springboard for tomorrow’s problems in Silicon Valley.
What’s impressed so far about creator Mike Judge’s arch application of Murphy’s Law is how he and the writers have scaled it to season and series-spanning lengths. Individual episodes still find room for riff-heavy plots that allow the cast of basic tech bros to be basic tech bros: in the third episode, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) buys a gold chain, and suffers for it mercilessly. For no real reason, there’s a scene early in the premiere where penguin-bodied peacock Erlich (T. J. Miller) gets in a fight with one of those creepy, quadruped DARPA robots. In both cases, the bits are justified by merit of how funny it is to watch comic actors this talented do all the ribbing/robo-battery.
But it wouldn’t be surprising to see such throwaway gags, some time from now, reveal themselves as critical to the season’s trajectory. Last year in particular illustrated Judge and company’s deft ability to connect disparate goofs on tech culture and corporate process into unexpectedly tight, even occasionally earnest storytelling. Silicon Valley’s gradual but thoughtful serialization has allowed the creators to do more than just use the show as a platform for ridiculing an already ridiculous culture of thought-leading business gurus and financial unicorns.