Credit: John P. Fleenor/HBO

For every step forward, the Pied Piper boys have always taken two steps back. When Richard (Thomas Middleditch) creates the best file compression algorithm in the world, Hooli aims to take it all. When Pied Piper succeeds at TechCrunch, investor panic nearly ruins their prospects. When they finally fend off Hooli’s legal team, they almost delete everything they’ve built. It’s as if Big Head (Josh Brener) wrote the software behind their success!

This time around, though, Pied Piper’s worst enemy is Richard himself. Pushed out as CEO, his wounded pride leaves the boys facing their leader’s threat to abandon the team, leaving every dweeby man to work only for his dweeby self. But if a broken — or rather, disrupted — Pied Piper seems too weighty a subject for the satire to handle, it’s not. The high-IQ (and sometimes just high — thank you, Erlich) ensemble cracks the code, first with rapid-fire jokes on geek culture. The premiere alone touches on a deer robot (dubbed “Bambot,” natch), a 3-D mustache app (it’ll launch just in time for Movember!), and a newly revamped opening credits sequence that pokes fun at rideshare companies and dispatches from the real Silicon Valley.

And then there’s the wild, frantic tension that season 2 elevated with “Two Days of the Condor.” In previous seasons, the show’s mined edge-of-your-seat comedy out of the team’s endless struggles from their war against Hooli. Now, with Hooli effectively out of the picture, the show looks inward at each of the Pied Piper boys, who aren’t used to feeling comfortable. New CEO Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) guides them into a feng-shui’ed office where Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) don’t have to bicker over hardware, Richard just has to put up with a robotic sales team eager to get Pied Piper to the market, and Jared (Zach Woods) can finally try to resolve his unfortunate housing problem. Even Erlich (TJ Miller) can appreciate Jack for doing his homework. “It’s odd not having to do everything ourselves,” Jared marvels early into their transition. “Isn’t it?”

It is, but the oddness of their newfound stability only helps make the show a gutsy look at how success requires failing again… and again… and again. It’s no spoiler to say things quickly stop going the boys’ way, but if certain failures feel predictable (and yes, some do), the early act of the season surprises by delving deeper into just how far each member of Pied Piper is willing to go to make start-up gold. After all, fighting Hooli is nothing compared to fighting the horror of what they’ve created themselves — and this time, the carnage won’t just be a batch of scorched servers. A-

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