‘Silicon Valley’ Returns for a Fifth Season of Geek Satire and Tech Intrigue

Silicon Valley” returns to HBO facing a milestone and challenge. It now begins its fifth season, which can mean the half-way point for many series, and it is the first time it returns without T.J. Miller. Miller’s departure last year due to contentious circumstances effectively removed one of the show’s quirkiest, most recognizable characters, Erlich Bachman. But because the show centers on a group and not just one persona it carries along pretty well. The new season finds our tech industry heroes dealing with the hassles of running your own company amid the dangers of extreme competitors and staffers who hate the “no dogs” office policy. Storylines from the previous season crossover into this one, but creator Mike Judge tries to keep it fresh and interesting without the need to rehash. The plots are secondary anyway to the satirical humor taking aim at that batch of land where West Coast tech nirvana thrives.

The show’s key foursome is back. Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Jared (Zach Woods), Bertram (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) have now moved their company Pied Piper into new, fancy offices. Everything should be ready to go but as always, there are some roadblocks. New coders need to be hired but from where? Although Richard already has one, small group of “stallions” who can do wonders, or so it seems. One option could be luring coders away from a fancy new pizza ordering app which cuts costs by re-boxing pizzas first ordered from Domino’s. Also returning is egomaniac Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), who spent some time in Tibet but has problems harmonizing his newfound Buddhism with wanting to undermine Pied Piper. Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) is also back but with one goal: To somehow prove that Erlich Bachman is dead so he may claim to be the sole executor of his estate, thereby becoming the sole heir.

By the time a show reaches its fifth season there is the real challenge of keeping the material vigorous. But because Judge is a satirist at heart he always finds something to comment on or poke at. The show can keep going because its characters live in an industry that keeps shifting and changing, so they have to continuously adapt. Like Judge’s first real take on cubicle life, the 1999 movie “Office Space,” the characters are conduits for some very funny observations about a specific culture. Bertram and Dinesh hate each other and start dueling through electric vehicles. Dinesh shows off his new Tesla and so Bertram tries to one up him by getting his own, albeit cheaper, electric contraption (which he can use on the bike lane and beat Dinesh to the best parking spot). Belson wants a fancy design for his company’s new product but is shocked when Banksy is hired and leaves his signature marked on the artwork, complaining, “What an egomaniac!” At one point Jared tries to get Richard to strike a friendship with Dana (Dan Mintz), the young CEO of a company with a billion-dollar evaluation. When Richard openly admires a painting on the wall Dana, who Mitz plays with the great, nerdy introverted attitude, reveals it’s the first painting made by artificial intelligence. A lot of tech lingo is thrown around about coding, algorithms and finances with self-mocking brio. This has always been the strength of the show, its purposeful caricature of the emerging generation of young people making tons of cash off tech booms.

Longtime fans will of course be wondering how the show carries on without Miller. Judge and the writers carefully tip-toe around the sudden void in the cast by choosing not to completely kill off Bachman, instead they seem to be trying to fade him out. Jian-Yang needs a body to convincingly make the case he’s Bachman’s executor and goes so far as to cremate a pig (“a fat pig is closest to human”). The rest of the cast don’t mention the character much, they seem to accept he’s just gone. In one funny scene, perhaps meant as a statement, Jian-Yang gains custody of Bachman’s big house and kicks out Richard and the rest of the guys.

Sensing the fanbase deserves what it expects following the departure of a cast member, this season kicks off by delivering in its first three episodes exactly what makes the show enjoyable. Suspense comes from trying to steal another company’s COO, and the suspicion that rivals have planted a mole in the office. Richard keeps getting nausea when trying to speak before his new, hired coders and Dinesh ponders if paying $1,700 in car damages is worth it as long as he gets revenge on Bertram. It is a celebration of geekdom that running on five seasons still entertains. It has found a comfort zone keeping its fanbase happy, but newcomers can tune in and smile, because depending on what city you live in, you might know these guys.

Silicon Valley” Season 5 premieres March 25 and airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.