Thomas Middleditch, Josh Brener
In what amounts to a "eureka" moment for the dweeby hero of HBO's Silicon Valley (Sunday, 10/9c), Mike Judge's stingingly funny send-up of the tech-boom culture, accidental entrepreneur Richard (Thomas Middleditch) acknowledges midway through the fourth episode, "That's what I don't have: game!"
If he did, the show would lose much of its geeky zing. There's not much danger of that, thankfully. Middleditch projects an endearingly flustered quality of suppressed but escalating panic in this breakout role of a timid computer programmer whose ahead-of-the-curve compression algorithm turns him into a suddenly and unexpectedly hot commodity.
As he becomes the hapless pawn in a game of high-stakes jousting between two bitter-rival tech billionaires, sensationally played by Big Love's dyspeptic Matt Ross and the more cryptic Christopher Evan Welch (who died in December during production), Richard is chagrined and terrified to realize how hopeless he is at the vision thing, musing, "Do you know how awkward it is to not be able to describe your own company?"
The deft, resonant satire that helped make Judge's Office Space a cult hit takes on farcical new dimension in Silicon Valley, which introduces a socially maladroit posse of computer misfits every bit the comic equal of The Big Bang Theory's science nerds. Living in the "incubator" home of obnoxious sponsor Erlich (T.J. Miller), a one-hit start-up wonder and all-around boor, Richard stays loyal to his team: the prickly Gilfoyle (Freaks and Geeks' Martin Starr), the wry Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), the "lightweight at everything" Big Head (Josh Brener) and the nervous, business-minded Jared (The Office's twitchy Zach Woods).
By not selling out when he could, Richard frets that he and his buds are missing out in this empty land of plenty. And yet these Valley boys somehow make being uncool seem cool. They may not have game, but Silicon Valley most definitely does.
Paired with the third season of the savagely hilarious Veep (10:30/9:30c), this combo promises to be HBO's most robust and certainly most entertaining comedy hour in years. Veep is off to a strong start as the rudderless yet opportunistic title character of VP Selina Meyer (deliciously played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has won two Emmys for the role) and her venal staff squirm in frustrated anxiety, waiting for months for the never-seen POTUS to announce he's not running for re-election, opening the door for her seemingly delusional ambitions.
Nothing and no one is sacred to this brutal wallow in political bad behavior, which takes its act to the heartland in the opener as Selina brazenly woos Iowa caucus voters at a book signing (for her new ghost-written tome, ambiguously titled Some New Beginnings). The rudeness is astonishing as Meyer's team, many jockeying for position in the campaign to come, gets easily distracted by breaking news back home, blowing off constituents while mostly ignoring the wedding of hangdog press secretary Mike (Matt Walsh). And back in D.C., a wicked subplot spoofing "gossip-tainment" bloggers has serious consequences, not that anything stays serious for long on Veep.
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EPIC: Sunday's big event is, of course, the fourth-season premiere of HBO's triumphant dark fantasy Game of Thrones (9/8c), which somehow manages to convey a staggering geographical scope while maintaining a lucid and intimate focus on a wide array of fascinating, nuanced characters. It's sexy, violent, witty, emotionally devastating and visually spectacular — those dragons are bigger and more unruly than ever — delivering an experience not unlike how the glorious Diana Rigg (as Lady Olenna, Queen of Thorns) responds when she first lays eyes on the Amazonian warrior Lady Brienne (Gwendoline Christie): "Aren't you just marvelous, absolutely singular!" Yes, she is, and so's the show.
The narrative sprawls from icy northlands to scorching desert, juxtaposing royal court intrigue with picaresque mayhem in the gritty, bandit-ridden villages. But there's a tight focus to much of the storytelling as all of Westeros, high and lowborn, reels from the shocking events of last season's "Red Wedding," even while Kings Landing prepares for yet another eventful betrothal: of the hatefully sadistic boy ruler King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) to the calculating Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). This event brings a provocative new figure into the capital city: Dorne's sexually voracious Prince Oberyn "Red Viper" Martell (Pedro Pascal), who has reason to loathe the ruling Lannisters almost as much as we do. Happily, the episode doesn't stint on the major characters to whom we have grown most attached: the sardonic "imp" Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), the scrappy waif Arya (Maisie Williams) and the majestic Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who soon learns it's no easier to tame her beloved dragons than it is to rule a slave army. It's a long road back to the Iron Throne, which those who have read the books know only too well. But as Game of Thrones vividly dramatizes the events of the best volume of the series (No. 3, A Storm of Swords), we have no choice but to surrender to one of TV's grandest great escapes.
YANKEE DOODLE NOT SO DANDY: In theory, AMC's Turn should be a riveting patriot game, combining spy drama with historical pageantry in its depiction of Revolutionary War intrigue. If only the show (Sunday, 9/8c) were as revolutionary as the premise. Plodding in its predictability and colorless in its characterizations of rebellious heroes and stock redcoat villains, this stubbornly bland potboiler stars a gaunt, intense Jamie Bell (Billy Elliott) as a Long Island farmer trying to mind his own business when he's recruited by boyhood friends, including a renegade smuggler and a soldier in General Washington's beleaguered army, to risk life and livelihood by providing intel for the Colonial underdogs. This is a story worth telling, but also worth telling better. You may find yourself hoping for a sighting of Sleepy Hollow's Ichabod Crane — anything to provide a little zest, surprise or even witty panache.
HOPE FLOATS AWAY: After four seasons of inspired wackiness, Fox's Raising Hope signs off with back-to-back episodes in its undeserved Friday night graveyard shift (9/8c). It's true that the show had become more than a little played out, and moving it to Fridays (while letting the abysmal Dads waste space on Tuesdays) made the reality of this series finale pretty much a foregone conclusion, but the giddy performances of Garret Dillahunt and Martha Plimpton as the indomitable Burt and Virginia, those resiliently hard-luck Chances, are delightful to the end. And Cloris Leachman's batty Maw Maw is a caricature for the ages. (Here she is threatening Jeffrey Tambor, who returns in the finale as Virginia's estranged papa: "I got my eyes on you. Everything is milky and blurred, but I can make out shapes.")
The mostly forgettable first episode is enlivened by a guest-star turn from a TV world the polar opposite of Natesville: Downton Abbey's Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore!), as the perhaps too-devoted housemaid of Sabrina's departed Nana. Tambor's return to the family fold in the sweet finale sets up a magical dream wedding for premature bride Virginia — including a serenade from Kenny Loggins (because "in Natesville, it's always the '80s") — that might leave fans a bit misty-eyed. Hope's modest departure is a far cry from the media event of How I Met Your Mother's convoluted exit earlier this week, and while it's nowhere near as ambitious, it's also a lot more satisfying.
THE WEEKEND GUIDE: Cue the music: HBO goes behind the scenes of The Boss's latest acclaimed album in Friday's half-hour documentary Bruce Springsteen's High Hopes (9:30/8:30c), with studio and rehearsal footage of Springsteen's collaboration with Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave). ... Another week, another country-music awards show: The 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards (Sunday, 8/7c, CBS) opens with The Band Perry performing "Chainsaw," followed by a who's who of country headliners, including Blake Shelton performing with fellow The Voice coach Shakira, and Miranda Lambert teaming with George Strait for a tribute to Merle Haggard, who receives the Crystal Milestone award from Garth Brooks. ... Remember this one? CBS is pulling Unforgettable off the shelf to complete a run started last summer (Friday, 8/7c), with Carrie and Al pretending to be married so as to trap a killer who specializes in couples. ... CBS's Hawaii Five-0 turns to fans to decide key story points and production elements, including the title, in this week's episode (Friday, 9/8c), about the murder of a macadamia-nut tycoon at Chin Ho's high-school reunion. Rob Corddry guests as one of the fans' choices, playing a struggling illusionist. ... Syfy's time-tripping thriller Continuum opens its third season Friday (10/9c) with Kiera a captive of the Freelancers while Alec deals with the consequences of his own journey back to the near past. ... Animal Planet joins the after-show craze, following up the two-hour premiere of the sixth season of River Monsters (Sunday, 9/8c), all about an "Amazon Apocalypse," with River Monsters: Live With Jeremy Wade (11/10c), in which the host answers aquatic questions from fans on Twitter and Facebook. ... Lisa has a new boyfriend on Fox's The Simpsons (Sunday, 8/7c), and it's Zach Galifianakis, voicing the role of competitive eater-in-training Lucas Bortner. Big surprise: Marge doesn't approve.
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