Tuesday, April 14, 2015

SILICON VALLEY "Shuffle" in Wake of Death

Article first written for Seat42F.

A hanging question this past year about HBO’s SILICON VALLEY is, how will the show deal with the death of Christopher Evan Welch, who played Peter Gregory? That question is answered in the season two premiere, “Sand Hill Shuffle,” which takes place shortly after season one ends. Pied Piper considers which investor offer to accept, not confident that Gregory’s company is the smart move without its managing partner. During this, many mourn the death of Gregory, whose passing hangs heavy over the story.

SILICON VALLEY is a comedy, and as sad as everyone is over Welch’s passing, to not make his character’s death at least a little bit funny would go against the tone of the show. Some sitcoms have taken the more serious tact when losing a cast member, but it doesn’t make sense for SILICON VALLEY to do so, and so it doesn’t. From Monica (Amanda Crew) very slowly telling the story of Peter’s final moments, to eulogies being hijacked to defend products, “Sand Hill Shuffle” manages to elicit laughs, while still paying fitting tribute to the man. It’s a hard balance to strike, and this show nails it.

A strong personality is needed to replace the eccentric Gregory, who is a great presence in season one. SILICON VALLEY finds this in Suzanne Cryer, who plays the antisocial new managing partner in the firm. She is different enough from Gregory to not seem like an imitation, but still brings some of the same off-putting characteristics that provide screwball comedy in a unique-ish way. While we are only a single episode into season two, I think Cryer seems like the perfect presence to fill the hole.

As Monica adjusts to new leadership, she is caught in a very difficult position. Obviously, she values her career, but she also has feelings for Richard (Thomas Middleditch). When her new boss makes a business decision that will likely hurt Richard, Monica sticks her neck out to protect him, warning him away from the deal.

I can’t help but feel that these two have to find a way to be together. Sure, this is TV, so there has to be drama between them preventing the romance. But that can’t last forever, right? There is no point in stretching this out for six seasons of will-they, won’t-they. Season two is the time to make the relationship happen, even if it’s not until the end.

Richard proves once more that he is the brains of the operation in “Sand Hill Shuffle.” While Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) bicker over who is CTO, and while Erlich (T.J. Miller) beats the funding firms at their own game by being exceedingly rude, Richard actually considers the situation carefully, paying attention to everything that goes down. It’s Monica that recommends Richard not take the bigger deal, but it’s Richard that decides to make that happen while staying with the firm he wants to, even though they offer the most money, as Monica isn’t part of Pied Piper. Obviously, Monica provides the smarts here and deserves most of the credit for saving them, but as far as the tech company is concerned, Richard is the one who makes the right choice, just as he is the one who saves the day in season one.

It’s interesting that Richard is the savior. Everyone in the cast has their role, and his has been genius programmer. To also give him business sense defies convention a little bit, in my opinion. Normally, I’d appreciate seeing another main character, perhaps Jared (Zach Woods), save the day, but SILICON VALLEY always lets Richard do it. It’s an intriguing choice, and one that works for this particular program.

Basically, I don’t have any complaints about “Sand Hill Shuffle,” which is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s as funny as anything in season one, keeps the stakes alive with the cliffhanger that Gavin (Matt Ross) is suing Pied Piper, and advances the story and growth of Richard. It’s clear that the show has lost nothing during its hiatus, and despite the regrettable departure of Welch, SILICON VALLEY will live on, as good as ever.

SILICON VALLEY airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.

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