SILICON VALLEY Review: “Customer Service”

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This week word came out that would be coming back for a fifth season, but unfortunately without the talents of T.J. Miller, who won’t be reprising his role as Erlich Bachmann. Both HBO and Miller’s reps have called it a mutual break, so it looks as if Miller is deciding to push forward on his film and see if he can make it as a leading man in the comedy world. On the surface it seems like a strange move for Miller to take, the show is a success and maybe besides some scheduling issues, it shouldn’t detract from his status or opportunities. But when you dig deeper it might point towards something that I’ve been sensing despite my deep enjoyment of the show this season, and that is that maybe Miller rightly sees a stagnant ship with diminishing returns for himself as a performer and the show as a whole.

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While I don’t think the show is doomed next season, I do think he’ll leave a giant hole that the show won’t be able to adequately fill, and we may be approaching a tipping point for the show’s ability to sustain its higher pedigree of sit-com. I haven’t had a problem with the re-set the series has taken this season because I love the characters and it consistently surprises me with its choices. But, it does walk a tight rope that keeps it from being a standard half hour comedy and a major change in its core cast feels like the exact kind of thing to throw it off balance. “Customer Service” is the first episode where I felt that even though I was constantly laughing, the moment it ended I wasn’t really sure what there was to talk about. Basically, it just felt like a regular show, and that seems like a bit of a kiss-of-death kind of thing to say for an HBO show. Remember, “it’s not TV, it’s HBO,” and I think the people at HBO rightfully believe in and fight for that statement to be true.

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I’ve defended this season’s decision to bring the team back to the beginning because time and time again Mike Judge and company have been able to subvert my expectations on the plot and consistently give me unique and hilarious situations for this very special group of characters to get into. I’m always ready to watch because I’m not sure where things are going. Even this week I expected Laurie’s new company to fund Richard, but the show didn’t take the obvious bait. I love that I can’t predict what’s going to happen. But somewhere implicit in that logic is the trust that the creators know better than I do where they’re going, and that it’s a safe journey to take to a fixed end point. I enjoy the journey but ultimately I want to see our lovable losers get somewhere in the end. And maybe there isn’t a real end in sight, and what we’re watching is the creators shoot from the hip but be savvy enough to do it well.

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While that might be ok for a network comedy, the HBO pedigree suggests there has to be a forward motion, a goal to reach. The only comedy on TV right now that’s been able keep itself from progressing without stagnating, is “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” But that’s by design, the characters are caricatures, and the situations are ludicrous and very openly issue oriented. Silicon Valley by contrast requires us to care about Richard and the gang, so while it’s fine to have them get too close to the sun once and have to start over, we can’t watch that cycle over and over again. We need them to get somewhere even if it takes a while, and maybe the show’s mistake was giving Pied Piper too much success too quickly without knowing what to do with it. This time around, it’ll happen without Erlich Bachmann, and that might be ok. But next season has to be when we see the next level of problems and a development of all these characters we love.

Miller’s leaving now suggests that the creators weren’t planning on next season to be the last. If that were the case they probably could have convinced him for one more rodeo. But if next season isn’t the end, is there an actual game plan for how best to resolve these stories? As much as I love Jared’s constant fawning over Richard, or Gilfoyle and Dinesh’s eternal warring, I don’t like finishing these episodes and forgetting about them as quickly as I was able to this week. I don’t want to get to a point where I can watch Silicon Valley as casually as I might a classic twenty episode sit com. And although I might be holding the show to a higher and perhaps unfair standard, I think HBO wouldn’t want me to lower it and devalue its brand. We’ll see where the series goes from here, but I won’t be surprised if we get news soon that season five will be the show’s end. I know I haven’t said much about what actually happened in this week’s episode, but that should be telling in itself.

TB-TV-Grade-B+

Season 4, Episode 6 (S04E06)
Silicon Valley airs Sunday at 10PM on HBO

Read all of our reviews of Silicon Valley here. 
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Follow Greg on Twitter: @brechergreg
Keep up with all of Greg’s reviews here.

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