[This is a review of the Silicon Valley season 3 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Besides establishing itself as one of the funniest television comedies of 2015, season 2 of HBO's Silicon Valley also managed a narrative roller coaster with relative ease. And while it sometimes seemed like the loyal employees of Pied Piper took two steps back every time they took a step forward, the messy conflicts the season's narrative introduced were actually welcome. This was mainly because each obstacle they encountered brought with it a wealth of comedic opportunities, but also because viewers knew (more or less) where the season would end -- with Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and Gavin (Matt Ross) squaring off for Pied Piper's IP.
Coming into the season 3 premiere, the narrative roadmap of the upcoming season wasn't as defined. In fact, with the show's main character ousted from the company he fought so hard to build, the series presented the potential to travel in any one of a number of narrative directions. But the uncertainty of Richard and PP's future only ramped up anticipation and excitement for the series' return, and fortunately, Silicon Valley's season 3 premiere didn't let its viewers down.
While it didn't always go for the big laugh, 'Founder Friendly' was successful on nearly every narrative and character front. The episode took a major step in answering the lingering questions from last year's finale, introduced a potentially fantastic new player to the Pied Piper team in "Action" Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), and significantly grew its characters in the wake of some big changes and even bigger decisions. And it accomplished all of this without reverting back to the show's old habits, choosing to forge a new narrative path more concerned with tackling interesting internal conflicts rather than throwaway external ones.
If this were season 1 or 2 of Silicon Valley, we would have likely been presented with a tangible and visible villain for Pied Piper to face, like a fierce rival company. And even though Hooli will still likely be a formidable foe for PP down the line, the only challengers to the company's success currently are the ones who built it. This character-centered approach to the season's new story arc is not only a refreshing shift from past seasons, but it also shows confidence in those characters carrying the series forward.
Of course, the most interesting growth can be seen in Richard, who, after starting the series as the neurotic and awkward tech genius with almost zero self-esteem, evolved into a confident and proud, but somewhat egotistical man-child at the end of season 2. In the season 3 premiere, we see Richard, after receiving a figurative gut-punch from Raviga in the form of a demotion, angered and disrespected, but ultimately humbled once again. After taking some sound advice from the (re)incarcerated Pete (Matt McCoy), Richard realizes that maybe it's time to set aside pride, that maybe developing a celebrity mustache hologram app isn't in his future and that maybe he doesn't have the experience to lead a burgeoning tech company -- at least not yet. And at the end of the episode, we see yet another new layer of Richard's character, as he begins to maturely look at his potential replacement as more of a partner than an adversary.
Meanwhile, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) also demonstrate some healthy development as their loyalties to Richard are tested. After acknowledging some of Richard's flaws as a leader, they convince themselves they could solider on at Pied Piper without him. However, after diving deeper into the platform, the coders quickly realize Richard's expertise is needed for the company to thrive, and begin to rethink their spiteful actions and harsh criticisms of their friend.
In coming to grips with their own faults and failings, many of the show's characters displayed some positive growth, but the premiere also peppered in plenty of great comedic moments wherein characters stayed true to themselves. One of the episode's brightest highlights came from the always antagonistic Erlich (T.J. Miller), who greeted Jack with a stockpile of old man jokes before having his own ego stroked; and another from Gavin, who turned what appeared to be a resignation speech into an announcement of the Nucleus division's dismantling. All in all, the episode didn't strain itself with forced humor, but cleverly found enough opportunities to keep things light, as usual.
So, where does the series go from here? It certainly looks like the members of Pied Piper are willing to reunite with Richard, and it appears he changed his mind about leaving Pied Piper as he reversed back up Action Jack's winding driveway. With how things played out in the premiere, one would expect Richard to take on the role of CTO under Jack -- whom we hope to see much more of as the season moves along, considering the great character actor portraying him. But, so far, season 3 has also introduced an open and untraversed narrative road, so the ultimate destination is still unknown. And that's pretty exciting.
Silicon Valley season 3 continues next Sunday with 'Two in the Box' @10pm on HBO.