The fifth season of Silicon Valley begins with the Pied Piper boys getting the fresh start they desperately needed. With ample funding at their disposal, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and his crew are ready to invest in a brick-and-mortar space with new employees and, to Jared’s (Zach Woods) excitement, an “intuitive kitchen layout.” Silicon Valley is as much about the arduous building of a company as it is about how that process affects its prime movers, and no one is more impacted by the pressures of leadership than Richard, whose new responsibilities drive him into alternating bouts of timidity and rage. With its new office space and staff, Pied Piper has begun to feel like a real company, and the pressures of maintaining a budget and an entire staff causes Richard’s behavior to become accordingly more erratic.
Pied Piper has always struggled with money, so Richard is naturally reluctant to spend more than he needs to on a new office space. The season opens with a great gag that plays up that reticence as he leads Jared, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) into a building full of inspiring open-air shared offices and straight into a dreary, fluorescent-lit room. And while Richard manically advocates for the cheap space, the other guys are viscerally disgusted. It’s Jared who ultimately talks his boss out of the idea: “We can easily afford a place with windows and air, where you can maintain a connection to time and space.” Jared’s act of reassurance is more meaningful than his usual devotional displays of support, as well as an unintentional first step in proving his bona fides as Richard’s ideal chief operating officer.
Richard’s neurosis is rooted in past blows that Pied Piper has been dealt, and Silicon Valley’s new season appears to follow the prior one’s lead by finding him at what may be a point of no return: as a purveyor of the tech industry’s cutthroat practices. The season premiere, “Grow Fast or Die Slow,” is a daisy chain of deceptions, of opportunism begetting underhandedness, kicked into motion by the twin indignities of a pizza-ordering app’s founder (Andrew Leeds) removing his résumé from Pied Piper’s consideration and Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) hiring all of the distributed systems developers whom Richard had met in the past few months. And by the end of the episode, Pied Piper has bled one company dry and absorbed it and another company’s employees.
The Mike Judge-directed episode’s comic highlight—for how it gilds the lily of Richard’s anxiety in deadpan fashion, and riffs on the idea of transparency—sees Jared tasking his boss with addressing their new employees and, in turn, effectively triggering Richard’s flight-or-flight response. Well, just the flight part, as evidenced by Richard running through a glass wall. This is the 2.0 version of the Richard who was once gripped by night sweats from the stress of finding a web server, and as he vomits into his wastebasket—and within full view of his new employees—you may hope he’s rid himself of the ruthlessness that now drives so many of his actions. “Richard, I know money is tight, but I think I might invest in a new modesty panel for your desk,” says Jared.
Of course, that season five sees Gavin re-embracing his villainy in trying to once again undermine Pied Piper may mean that the petty Richard of new may not be going away anytime soon. Interestingly, though, Gavin’s fear of being condemned to technological antiquity prevents his treacherousness from feeling completely old hat. In fact, it succeeds at humanizing him. And in true Silicon Valley fashion, Gavin’s anxieties are undercut by a great dick joke, this time in the form of his phallic-looking signature being imprinted on the Hooli Box 2.0: his company’s clunky, hopelessly dated backup device and “flagship product.” Gavin, as oblivious as he is narcissistic, is no longer a part of the cutting edge (his Innovation Hall of Fame peers are all geriatrics), and in Silicon Valley, obsolescence is just as bad as outright failure.
This new season is Silicon Valley’s first without Erlich, who we last saw waylaid at a Tibetan opium den. In the hopes of seizing Erlich’s property and shares in Pied Piper, Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) fakes his frenemy’s death by cremating a pig and bringing the ashes to court inside a bucket. It’s unlikely that a judge would fall for such a harebrained tactic, but it’s also farfetched in that wonderfully inane way that’s unique to this show, which has always been built on the foundation of such juvenile humor as veritable geniuses using their talents to calculate hand-job heuristics. If anything, season five is proof that Silicon Valley’s nerdy entourage can hold their own without T.J. Miller, once considered the show’s comedic MVP. From the spectacle of Richard’s ever-twitchy nerves, to Dinesh’s ongoing insecurities over coming in second to the dependably derisive Gilfoyle, to the sound the latter uses to alert him whenever the value of Bitcoin fluctuates, to Jared’s predilection toward Julia Roberts movies, the series is still capable of extracting gut-busting comedy out of its characters’ desperate striving for their piece of the pie.