HBO Comedy Block Week 10

SILICON VALLEY – THE UPTICK (S3E10)

HBO had a good Sunday night. All three season finales were strong, and each in a different way. Silicon finished another enjoyable season, with some episodes among its best to date, and the finale gave us a nice stopping point for the year.

Last week, I told you Monica and Richard might begin a blooming romance, but only if Pied Piper was dead in the water and he was on the lowest rung available on the tech totem pole. But, because this is Silicon Valley, we had to have that “triumph after already being chewed and mauled to death by a hound” kind of finale. It’s both good and bad, but I can tell you this, as much as I still enjoyed this season, I’m hoping next year brings with it a change to some of the show’s structure. If Season 3 was “Always Blue,” how about we go with “Occasionally Magenta” for Season 4?

We don’t want these guys to fail, but as we watch them fall on their faces over and over again, only to be saved at 11:59 before a midnight execution, it starts to run together in a bad way. The show is still blisteringly funny when it wants to be, as we saw last night with Erlich’s explanation of how he earned the six million-dollar valuation from Coleman Blair. That was writing on par with the world’s greatest dick joke, which none of us will ever forget from the first season finale. Similarly, Jian-Yang’s constant war with Bachman always makes for great laughs.

This season, Silicon Valley placed most of the creative force behind its story, rather than its humor. That was an enjoyable decision, and much of what was presented was good, if not implausible. The one issue I take with the season as a whole, and it’s relatively significant, is how similar everything was. It goes back to that one concept of sad sacks who somehow avoid the show’s version of the electric chair. Whether it’s spilling skunkworks plans in front of Jack Barker, Pied Piper not being user friendly, Hooli’s “box,” Bachmanity Insanity’s implosion, or Jared’s scheme to buy users for the platform, it all had the exact same thing in common:

Success or optimism preceded every one of these things, either within the same episode, or in the previous week’s story.

I still love the show, love the cast, and respect Mike Judge, even though I haven’t entirely gotten past the disappointment of Extract. But, I want something different next year. Mix it up a bit, let this video chat app succeed and let’s watch these guys awkwardly try to navigate half a season of actual happiness or wealth. Don’t pull the rug out every other week, do it twice in the season, and maybe go all-in on the river with the jokes. It can still be a show about avoiding or handling pitfalls, but maybe let the Pied Piper crew actually jump over a few of them, in a row.

As for the story itself in the finale, Erlich Bachman and Big Head now own controlling interest in Pied Piper, and Dinesh’s video chat has gone from an amusing appetizer to the main course of the meal. As Gavin Belson decides between three versions of the new Hooli box, thinking he’s one upped Richard Hendricks, he’s soon to discover that same mumbling annoyance is now affiliated with an app that makes his own obsolete. Judge can have a field day with this in Season 4, and that’s what I hope he does.

The unraveling of Jared’s secret was very entertaining, especially Dinesh and Gilfoyle trying the veiled threat approach, along with the flash drive on the ground by the pool. Jared’s excitement over sharing a secret with Richard also worked for both characters, as Zach Woods plays childlike innocence as good as anybody, and Middleditch nails awkward and uncomfortable every time.

I know many of these reviews seem the same every week, but it’s because we’re seeing the same things play out repeatedly, and although the base idea is solid, variety is what takes Silicon Valley to the next level. If it never changes, I’ll like it until the end, and maybe the alterations could wreck the boat, but it’s still a risk I hope the show is willing to take next year. It was still a good, often great season, but Veep retakes its throne as the best comedy on TV.

VEEP – INAUGURATION (S5E10)

I can’t help but wonder if this was the perfect way to end not just the season, but also the series. We all want more of this show, which just finished its best year, one that will likely result in some hardware, but last night would have been quite the final bow. It had the right tone to be the last episode, and the uncertain future that showrunners love to rely on to keep their audience guessing past a program’s expiration date.

We should have guessed Tom James would be defeated in a Senate vote, because we never even heard there was a possibility he could lose. We never really met Laura Montez (Andrea Savage) until Andrew Doyle voted for her and she was named President of the United States. We only knew of her as O’Brien’s running mate. As soon as Tom approached Selina and wanted her to eat dung and become his Veep, rather than giving her Secretary of State, it was clear the chickens had been counted, but these were hard-boiled eggs.

David Mandel ended his first season in Veep’s Iron Throne in much the way he started it, ultimate confidence in his team, his cast, and Armando’s vision for the show. Season 5 was the show’s finest hour, and because of the ending, none of us have any clue what the series will look like in 2017 when it returns for Season 6. The formula definitely works, but we’ve already been given enough evidence to place trust in this show. Wherever we’re headed, it’s not a dead end. It’s a good thing Selina Meyer isn’t Tom James’ Veep, because that would have been lazy writing.

It’s just a reset button, but to replay the same video game levels we’ve already traversed with this show.

Instead, Veep left us with pages full of unanswered questions and volumes of possibilities for its next act.

Season 6 will begin with Jonah Ryan in Congress, Richard T. Splett in toe. Jonah may also only have one ball. Dan Egan may or may not be working for CBS as a result of his inauguration coverage. Catherine and Marjorie will likely be married and doing charity work. Mike McLintock and his wife will be raising their six-year old (not three) adopted child, and possibly dealing with two newborns. Sue Wilson will be handling secretarial duties for President Montez. Ben and Kent will be who the hell knows, though Cafferty was last seen at Disney World with his wife. Roger Furlong will be insulting people, especially his aide, Will. Tom James may be running a hedge fund. Amy is a big question mark. Gary will somehow still be working with Selina – because that’s one pairing that can never end – but in what capacity will it make sense?

For Veep’s main character, we’ll have to wait and see. The show was renewed long ago, and Julia Louis Dreyfus will be returning to the role that has already won her multiple Emmys, probably including one for this season’s performance. Would she run for elected office again? Would she consider K Street as a destination? A book tour once she finishes (has someone ghost write) her memoirs? Do we find out she’s actually pregnant with Tom James’ baby? Or Charlie Baird’s baby? Or maybe her ex-husband’s baby? So many questions. No answers as of right now.

Season 6 could depict post-political life with its trademark wit and sharp dialogue, and that could make for an entertaining, different style of program altogether. The characters we already know still exist, but in unique circumstances. We’ll all be able to speculate with one another for the rest of the year, before some of the tidbits begin leaking out.

Regardless of what’s to come, what preceded it has been outstanding television. Season 5 was magnificent stuff, and to top it off with The Eagle in the final seconds showed just how smart a show HBO has in its holster. The season paid off with a conclusion that changes everything for the future, and just like Silicon Valley allows for negatives to remain, even with new positives in the offing, Veep made certain the future is wide open. When “Inauguration” ended, my brain started working overtime on what the show will be in 2017. I cared about Season 6, before I could fully close the book on Season 5.

David Mandel and everyone on the Veep team, both in front of and behind the camera, just presented a ten-episode season that should be the rubric for every creative staff even considering a new comedy. Cohesion was the real brilliance of it all. As many things as we saw this season, it all played into one story, where nothing was left behind.

Season 5 of Veep was a stupendous effort. And I told you we’d be the only people ever to see Catherine’s doc.

I’m @GuyNamedJason. To which contemptible asshole did you think I was referring?

Written by Jason Martin