Silicon Valley season 4 starts by teetering on the edge of repetition

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Enlarge / A white board for a potential blank-slate restart.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: On Silicon Valley, the show’s main character, Richard Hendriks (Thomas Middleditch) is actually facing some small degree of success. But he panics in the face of it, then runs headlong into an awkward confrontation with his peers at tech start-up Pied Piper, before drastically changing gears.

That’s exactly the quandary that Hendriks finds himself in at the beginning of Silicon Valley‘s new season, which premiered on Sunday. The last season ended with Richard’s flailing company getting back on track by “pivoting” to a new idea: video chat, a side project invented by Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) that his coworkers mocked until it inadvertently became a success.

The team seems to be splitting up, again, as <em>Silicon Valley</em>'s 4th season begins.

Enlarge / The team seems to be splitting up, again, as Silicon Valley‘s 4th season begins.

All of that feels like a repeat of the third season’s opener. Last year, Belson told his company that “failure is growth.” This year, he “promotes” Jack Barker by sending him to work among the zombies in Hooli’s dungeon-like server farm.

It’s all still funny, for now. But how many times can Silicon Valley pull off this trick? The writers are in danger of falling into exactly the comedic trap that writer Alec Berg foresaw. The Pied Piper gang are “the Bad News Bears,” the underdogs, constantly trying to “score a win,” Berg told an audience at SXSW last year. Watching Richard squirm and react while Russ Hanneman launches into a Lamborghini-powered tirade of assholery is funny. If Richard were to actually become a success, what are we going to do? Watch him shop for his own Lambo? Would that be as funny?

The first episode lays a satisfying enough “do-over” for the show’s characters. So, will Silicon Valley spend the next few months repeating an old formula—or will the writers want to, you know, say something? Richard Hendricks is pondering a “new Internet,” and his blank whiteboard is calling out for big ideas. We’ll soon find out if the show can deliver.

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