Silicon Valley, Ep. 2.01-2.02, “Sand Hill Shuffle” & “Runaway Devaluation” sets up the new status quo

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Silicon Valley, Season 2, Episode 1, “Sand Hill Shuffle”
Written by Clay Tarver
Directed by Mike Judge

Silicon Valley, Season 2, Episode 2, “Runaway Devaluation”
Written by Ron Weiner
Directed by Mike Judge
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on HBO

Let’s talk shop: The second season of a show, if it is lucky enough to get one, is its most important. Season two is where the writers, producers, and cast have a chance to build up what works and cut the fat. Silicon Valley’s first season brought the show to a place prime for second season rejiggering, with an established world and tone, cracker jack dialogue, and performances both subtle and grandiose. But the unfortunate death of Christopher Evan Welch, who played the angel investor for the show’s startup, gave Mike Judge and Co. the added challenge of having to move forward without one of its key actors and narrative tools.

The first and most important thing Silicon Valley season two does is address the death of Welch head on. Peter Gregory is dead—he had a heart attack from running away after a gunshot, which was fired in order to scare off a hippopotamus that had wondered into his camp—and his death is the B-plot of “Sand Hill Shuffle.” The episode’s script, credited to Clay Tarver, smartly eulogizes Welch/Gregory while still providing laughs. Gregory’s funeral features powerpoints, dueling tech gurus arguing about the merits of Snapchat, a flock of doves, and the kind of contemplative black and white photographs that would probably be good as the cover of a biography.

But as sad as the death of a cast member is, a show cannot blow up its premise to try to accommodate that death. On a character level, this means the introduction of Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer) as the new acting partner of Peter’s venture capital firm. Where Gregory was mad and an eccentric genius who was enthusiastic about the acquisition of emu farms and fencing in equal measure, Bream is a human algorithm, who says as much when she starts talking about life in terms of “quantifiable metrics” in “Runaway Devaluation.” In terms of modulated performances of a high-functioning obsessive and intellectual, Cryer’s portrayal of Bream occupies a happy medium between Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper and Community‘s Abed Nadir. Cryer delivers verbose lines of dialogue, filled with fifty-cent words, with a dryness that makes the listener subconsciously reach for refreshment, while emoting enough with her eyes to clue in the attentive viewer that Bream is a person in touch with her emotions, but just chooses not to let those pesky things make any decisions. Bream also gives Silicon Valley, a show with very few women in it depicting a world with very few women in it, a sorely needed female perspective. And while that’s not a guarantee Bream will get her chance to shine, Cryer’s performance is enough to instill hope that it will.

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The show spends the crux of its first two installments, however, dealing with how Peter’s death affects Pied Piper. Both “Sand Hill Shuffle” and “Runaway Devaluation” essentially hit the same narrative beats: Something happens to affect the public perception of Pied Piper’s viability, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and Erlich (T.J. Miller) have a montage of meetings with other VC’s, there’s some mild distress at the incubator, and the end of the episode comes with a potential solution. This narrative redundancy is understandable, as the show is surely maneuvering things into a position that will drive the story for the bulk of the season, but it can be stale in the wrong hands. Fortunately, Silicon Valley has a not-so-secret weapon to help keep the familiar fresh: Dialogue so tight and goofy that entire articles exist solely to repeat it. Both episodes feature this in what are essentially well-edited improv highlights: “Sand Hill” has Erlich negging VC’s with beautifully crude turns of phrase like calling a man the “human equivalent of a flaccid penis” and proudly proclaiming to another “your muffins smell like shit and so do your ideas”. Meanwhile, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) gets a good chunk of time telling a bunch of coeds that the word “bro” translates to a variety of offensive things in other languages, such as “asshole”, “rapist”, and “one who beheads the messiah.”

Silicon Valley has the kind of foundation other sophomore shows would kill for. Now that it has gotten the early-season table setting out of the way, this show is poised to reach the truly blistering heights hinted at last season. Hopefully the show hasn’t had a runaway evaluation, and has reasonable and attainable goals set for itself so that it can continue being successful.

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