The final episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley — which aired last Sunday — dedicated an uncomfortable amount of time to teasing a potential cameo from T.J. Miller’s Erlich, the show’s firebrand standout character who exited the show a few seasons ago at the turn of the page on Miller’s career (he was accused of sexual assault, and just generally stopped getting work). It was indicative of a broader problem with these latest seasons of a show that seems to be relentlessly in search of its own appeal.
Since Miller left, although even he had become fairly unfunny by that point, the show lost its humour compass; its template for ensuring there are actually gags in an episode. Which isn’t always the case, because Silicon Valley is not inherently a comedy. In fact, you could cut each episode down by no more than 20–30%, retain the entire plot and it would work perfectly fine as a soft cable drama like The Morning Show. Thomas Middleditch, Zach Woods and Kumail Nanjiani — and to a lesser extent Martin Starr — are exceedingly sincere performers; they leak ambition and desperation and all the emotions that crop up weekly in a show about tech bros trying to become billionaires in a world where everyone knows how the fuck compression speeds work. When Silicon Valley debuted, I was spoiled by its charming ensemble of skinny men and pleasantly accessible tech banter. But my political issues with it emerged as I aged out of adolescence: I don’t like the types of people this show asked me to sympathise with. Yes, there are well-meaning and highly intelligent young men working in tech development — some of them are good friends of mine — but the guys on Silicon Valley were… assholes. And they’re not struggling, Beckettian assholes we can sadistically root for. They’re rich assholes living in a nice house playing around on computers all day.
At least Erlich was transparent about his intentions. But Nanjiani and Starr’s characters became exhaustingly obnoxious. Middleditch is thoroughly one-note as a performer. As is Matt Ross, forced into a larger role following the death of Christopher Evan Welch and not up to the task. The show’s treatment of women was, while never ill-intentioned, profoundly unimaginative. I doubt an episode ever passed the Bechdel test, maybe once or twice by accident, and Amanda Crew’s Monica proved a worthily aimless figure popping her head in and out of the boys’ misadventures without any real personal goals of her own.
The final episode dialled up the tension for one more algorithmic mishap, this time at a weird tech/rock festival organised by PiedPiper that climaxes with a rat invasion. Then our gang of colleagues reunite ten years on to reflect on their corporate failures. It’s interesting to compare with this year’s Big Bang Theory finale — the show to which this was something of a calmer, more mature older cousin — which gave the heroes the ultimate payoff with a Nobel prize. In this case, PiedPiper goes bust and everyone goes on to something much less impressive. And nobody seems to stay friends because they never really liked each other anyway. It’s dark and honest. And i’m so entirely glad this show too has finally finished. It’s been a long time since I lost interest.