“Silicon Valley” is one of those shows that’s easy to overlook — despite a pair of Emmy nominations as best comedy — beyond the core audience devoted to its nerd-heavy tech world. Like its characters, the HBO show is more low-key and understated than many of its higher-profile peers, “Veep” foremost among them.
After six solid seasons, the program’s finale provided a fitting sendoff, one that carried with it an unexpectedly sobering cautionary tale about the dangers of technology run amok, and — in a timely hook — the moral responsibilities that go with operating in this lucrative playground.
Written and directed by Alec Berg, the extra-long episode used a clever framing device, adopting the format of a documentary being shot 10 years in the future, flashing back on what went wrong with Pied Piper, the company viewers have followed over the past half-dozen years.
That approach created an opportunity to incorporate some amusing cameos (Bill Gates among them) as the real-life characters fit in with the eccentric billionaires that have passed through the central group’s orbit.
In another amusing twist, the big deal for Pied Piper was made with AT&T, the parent company of WarnerMedia, the owner of HBO and CNN.
The episode set up a major ethical dilemma, with Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and his collaborators on the verge of a major product launch that will make them all insanely wealthy. When they identify a glitch in the technology with potentially devastating consequences — the explanation was a little wonky but think “Terminator”-level stuff — they faced the moral dilemma of scuttling their own product and company or turning it loose on an unsuspecting world.
The plot not only offered a thoughtful conundrum but paid off with a spectacular visual gag — as the implementation of the technology unleashed a wave of rats, bringing a literal interpretation to the Pied Piper name.
Richard and his gang thus engaged in a quiet form of heroism and sacrifice, one that they couldn’t share with others. The framing allowed the writers to flash ahead and see where everyone landed — not badly, as it turned out, but not the wealth and power that would have flowed from becoming the next Gates or Mark Zuckerberg either.
“Silicon Valley” has always been an inordinately smart series in regard to how the wealth swirling around the tech industry breeds a certain kind of eccentricity, one where privilege and riches can’t obscure deficiencies in social graces and common sense. There has been a sense of camaraderie, alternating with juvenile contempt, among the key players, including Richard, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Jared (Zach Woods) and Monica (Amanda Crew).
Executive producer Mike Judge (whose credits include “King of the Hill” and “Office Space”) has an especially dry comedic sensibility that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but which always felt perfectly suited to this setting and its quirks. Where else, for example, could you hear a line of dialogue like “You’re using underage girls as slave labor for a fake Amazon review farm?” as you did in the penultimate episode.
Given the hoopla that tends to surround such farewells, it doesn’t feel like “Silicon Valley” is going out with a bang. Yet if the series wasn’t necessarily a killer app, it was, right up until the end, an extremely well-designed program.