Poor Richard Hendricks. As Season 4 of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” gets under way, the high-strung computer whiz — played to nerdy perfection by Thomas Middleditch — is deep into a fingernail-munching crisis. Pied Piper, the embattled start-up he nearly ran into the ground, is trying to reboot itself with a video-chat app that seems to be gaining some traction. But Richard isn’t feeling it. Unhappy and uninspired, he’s convinced that there’s a much better use for his revolutionary compression algorithm.
Work for a video-chat company? No way. “I think, subconsciously, I would rather bite my own fingers off,” he moans.
Richard’s stance puts him at odds with his housemates, especially Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), who developed the video-chat platform. And it’s this sense of discord that brings a fresh new dynamic to creator Mike Judge’s still-shrewd and well-observed sendup of the dot-com world.
In past seasons, most of the show’s conflict has pitted Richard and his fellow misfits against outside forces, including Gavin Nelson (Matt Ross), the megalomaniac chief of internet giant Hooli. Now, however, the conflict comes from within. The roommates finally have had enough of Richard’s shaky leadership and constant pivoting. Some are even questioning his sanity. A mutiny is brewing.
By Season 4, even standout TV comedies can start to feel a little shopworn. A been-there-done-that feeling settles in. But “Silicon Valley” still has plenty of geeky zeal to it, and this inner conflict is what that gives the show some extra juice.
As Richard takes flak from Erlich (T.J. Miller), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh, you experience a sense of achy discomfort. Will the guys reject their hapless, but likable, leader? Is the bro-fest really over? There are even some touches of pathos — something this edgy and irreverent satire rarely dabbles in.
Along those lines, some of the best early scenes feature Richard and the ever-meek Jared (Zach Woods). The latter has long been a staunch Richard loyalist. Now, he’s caught in the middle. It’s causing him endless stress. He’s like a little puppy with a bruised heart, and Woods nails every little sad-but-funny nuance.
Meanwhile, there’s even a slight new twist to the relationship between Gilfoyle and Dinesh. These two, of course, have always clashed, and rest assured, they continue to pummel each other with verbal jabs. But now that there’s a chance Dinesh might supplant Richard as company big shot, Gilfoyle is throwing his support to his sparring partner, if only to take pleasure in watching him fail.
At one point, Dinesh, feeling his oats, brags, “I’ll never underestimate my talents again,” before the perpetually acerbic Gilfoyle replies: “Don’t worry. I’ll continue to do it for you.”
Yes, “Silicon Valley” continues to find ways to deliver fun surprises, even as it operates on familiar turf. To wit: Sunday’s opener features the highly welcome return of venture capitalist Russ Hanneman (Chris Diamantopoulos), in all his blustery, hard-driving, foul-mouthed glory.
It’s Russ, of all people, who presents Richard with some very sensible advice about chasing his bliss. But that sensible advice is wrapped in a raunchy, over-the-top metaphor that we won’t spoil here. Just know it’s pure, hilarious Russ, and that “Silicon Valley” is still on its game.
Contact Chuck Barney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney and Facebook.com/bayareanewsgroup.chuckbarney
When: 10 p.m. Sunday, April 23