HBO’s Silicon Valley has been one of the network’s more underrated gems. Underrated not in terms of critic or audience ratings but it terms of viewership ratings. It’s got a stellar cast, strong writing, terrific production values (surprisingly good for a comedy show), hilarious jokes and perhaps the most accurate depiction of the current technology landscape on screen. And yet, its viewership numbers are nowhere close to those CBS sitcoms that manage to have decade-long runs.
Well, now that the show is nearing its end, the final season having premiered yesterday, it’s going to be a bittersweet journey reviewing all episodes and looking back at how far we’ve come. But a lot of that nostalgia, I’ll save for the final episode. For now, let’s look at the Season 6 Premiere, titled Artificial Lack of Intelligence that sees showrunner Mike Judge attempt to recreate one of the most popular and eventful tech situations in recent times.
In a nod to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of Congress, the premiere opens with Richard Hendricks, CEO of the now successful Pied Piper that’s mounting a new internet, on the stand. Thomas Middleditch plays his character’s recognizable nervousness to the hilt, naturally fumbling and sweating his way into the hearings before being thrown a very obvious question: How in the world can an unregulated internet be a good idea.
While Silicon Valley has a penchant for, pardon my language, fucking its characters over and over, it surprisingly hands Richard a big win. The testimony sees Richard give a rousing speech about the pros of a new, decentralized internet where user data collection, ads and privacy breaches are not only a thing of the past, but simply not possible. His speech resonates with the Congress committee while eliciting cheers from his own team watching the live stream and the dialogue makes it abundantly clear that it’s set in our own world where Facebook, Google and Amazon have already testified.
Speaking of Amazon, Jeff Bezos’ multi-billion dollar venture plays heavily into the episode’s B-plot as it absorbs Gavin Belson’s Hooli. The “merger” is more of an acquisition green-lighted by Hooli’s board as a last-ditch rescue attempt to salvage the company that would result in several divisions and staff being slashed and their offices sold off. Hooli has always been representative of the Fortune 500 tech companies and while it may have started off as a clear imitation of Google & Microsoft, it has now been reduced to mirror Yahoo’s state of affairs. It’s going to be fascinating to see how Gavin handles the resulting terms of acquisition and where he goes from here, or even if we can expect a cameo from Jeff Bezos (highly unlikely, but being the final season, I’m holding out hope).
Back in Pied Piper’s new headquarters, the seeds of multiple subplots are set in motion, and these look like they could carry over throughout the remaining episodes. There’s some obvious distance between Richard and Jared, the new COO; while Jared reminisces fondly of the old days and their times in the incubator as a startup, Richard appears to have moved on, unfazed by nostalgic memories. And continuing with the tradition of handing our leads a bad plate, Richard realizes K-Hole’s CEO Colin is screwing them over by secretly collecting data without informing anyone. This leads to a hilarious game of one-upmanship which ultimately, as expected, go against Richard’s plans to sabotage this operation.
And finally, there’s the omnipresent rivalry between Dinesh & Gilfoyle. The two pillars of Pied Piper continue to be at loggerheads and share a love-hate relationship, with Gilfoyle’s hilarious attempts at tricking Dinesh by having his AI bot chatting with him. That idea is taken several steps further when Dinesh has his own AI bot created, to amusing consequences. There’s also a new employee Gabe who gets on Dinesh’s nerves as much as he gets onto Gilfoyle’s; their relationship could mirror Dinesh & Gilfoyle’s in future episodes.
The callbacks to real-life tech accessories and situations make the episode really fun. Whether it’s the wearable chair which, I swear I just saw trending on Twitter like a few weeks back (as also several criticizing the ludicrousness of the idea), or the Senate Hearings, or even Richard’s struggles to contain his employees and investors from breaching terms, the showrunners make it a point to incorporate as many recent events and headlines from the tech world as possible. The plot also makes you wonder if Zuckerberg was caught in a similar dilemma; despite his insistence on not wanting to collect user data, could a few key execs have gone rogue, forcing Zuck’s hand in it all? As Gilfoyle rightly puts it, working with humans sucks.
I will admit though I missed the laugh out loud moments the series episodes are generally know for. Richard guessing what _icked my ass means was the highpoint, given away in the trailers. It turned out to be a quality joke not just because the responses fit their respective characters, but also because a new incompetent employee didn’t get his “k” T-Shirt; they ordered only one and it was taken. That employee in question? That’s Gabe. The stuff with Dinesh and Gilfoyle was also funny, especially how their respective AIs cause a system meltdown of sorts. And welcome Son of Anton; hopefully the chap won’t succumb to the same fate as his father.
On the whole then, a really solid start to its final season. Silicon Valley Season 6 is tackling the right trends and issues plaguing the tech world off late. It’s going to be fun to witness the show navigate its remaining six episodes and close off on a high.