‘Silicon Valley’s’ second season suffers from loss of key actor

By Eli Fine

From left: Zach Woods, T.J. Miller, Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, and Martin Starr in "Silicon Valley." (Frank Masi/HBO)
From left: Zach Woods, T.J. Miller, Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, and Martin Starr in “Silicon Valley.” (Frank Masi/HBO)

When “Silicon Valley” premiered in 2014, its online reception made two things abundantly clear: First, people really loved Christopher Evan Welch’s quirky performance as Peter Gregory, the eccentric tech millionaire. Second, many reviewers were of the opinion that the show lacked a substantial female perspective.

Tragically, Welch died during production on season one, and as a result, was only in a handful of its episodes. While Welch was undoubtedly incredibly important to the show, creator Mike Judge and his team managed to keep the quality of the show’s remaining Peter Gregory-less episodes up to the same standards of earlier episodes. It comes as a surprise, therefore, that the first couple episodes of season two indicate that the loss of Welch may have permanently damaged the show in more ways than one.

Peter Gregory was never the best part of the show, nor was he essential to the show. He was a terrific character, always incredibly well played by Welch, but by no means could Peter Gregory’s presence make or break the show. What made the show work so well in its debut season was the incredible comedic chemistry between the core cast members. If “Silicon Valley” continued to crank out great episodes that focused on the Pied Piper gang’s interplay, instead of trying to replace Christopher Evan Welch, it could very easily maintain its excellence for many seasons to come.

Early season two episodes, however, are haunted by Welch’s absence. Much time is spent retroactively writing Peter Gregory out of the show as well as dealing with the Pied Piper crew dealing with the loss of Gregory. None of this is done with anything close to elegance – a scene in which Monica (Amanda Crew) describes to Erlich Bachman and Richard Hendriks (TJ Miller and Thomas Middleditch, respectively) exactly how and why Peter Gregory will not be returning is particularly clumsy.

Possibly in reaction to the internet’s insistence that “Silicon Valley” broaden its female point of view, Amanda Crew is given a lot more to do as Monica now compared to last season. Unlike Rebecca Creskoff’s inclusion as Laurie Bream, this is a positive thing. Crew was very good in a smaller part last season and continues to shine as her role in the world of “Silicon Valley” expands. Her interactions with Middleditch as Richard were always a highlight last season and they are every bit as awkward and amusing this season.

Another likely reaction to feminist criticism is the addition of Creskoff as Bream, Peter Gregory’s replacement as Raviga Capital managing partner. Creskoff is doing what is quite literally a bad Christopher Evan Welch impression. It’s weird how unashamedly similar to Gregory she is – her quirky awkwardness isn’t as funny as Welch’s, nor is it unique. He did it first.

T.J. Miller is the standout here as Aviato creator and 10 percent owner of Pied Piper, Erlich Bachman. As Erlich, Miller gets to let loose with all sorts of faux-bravado “Silicon Valley” type nonsense. Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr are great as Dinesh and Gilfoyle, Pied Piper coders who are always at each other’s throats. Nanjiani is one of my favorite stand-up comics and comic performers, and I was glad to see him get a real showcase episode this season. Zach Woods’ Jared is still hanging around the periphery of the Pied Piper guys. Woods is really fabulous in the relatively small role – he gets some of the show’s best lines.

Matt Ross deserves a lot of credit for his really solid work as Gavin Belson, Peter Gregory’s nemesis and current holder of a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Pied Piper. He went almost entirely overlooked last season, completely overshadowed by Welch, but now, tragically and ironically, he gets his moment to shine. Belson is a “love-to-hate” type of character and Ross pulls it off with aplomb. He is evil and confident and deeply insecure and feeble.

At the center of the show is Thomas Middleditch playing Richard, CEO of Pied Piper. Richard’s arc this season seems to be primarily about his dealing with the Gavin Belson lawsuit and what that means for his company. The second episode of the season ends in a very strategic and hilarious moment during a conversation between Richard and Gavin, a scene which has wonderful moments from both performers.

“Silicon Valley” season two seems to be a bit of a step down from season one due in large part to the show’s unfortunate handling of Welch’s untimely death. (Additionally, the show adds Chris Diamantopoulos, and actor who I absolutely loathe, to the cast next week. Diamantopoulos is a real sitcom-killer who ruined whole seasons of great shows like “The Office” and “Arrested Development” with his unique ability to be tediously annoying, bland, irritating and a cringe-inducing bad actor all at once. His upcoming “Silicon Valley” debut doesn’t bode well for the show.) However, Miller, Middleditch, Nanjiani, Woods and the rest of the cast compensate by remaining on top of their comedic game.

Eli Fine can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ElazarFine.