'Silicon Valley' Cast, Producers Take on Critics of the Comedy, Address T.J. Miller's Exit

"We’re a satire, and at a certain point the job is to hold a mirror up to a real thing and say, 'This is what it is,'" said co-showrunner Alec Berg during the HBO comedy's Paleyfest panel.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO
HBO's 'Silicon Valley' Paleyfest panel

The masterminds behind HBO's Silicon Valley had a few things to say about the criticism the comedy has endured during its four-year run.

During a Paleyfest panel on Sunday night ahead of the tech parody's season five premiere on March 25, the cast and producers on hand — which included showrunners Mike Judge and Alec Berg and stars Thomas Middleditch, Martin Starr, Zach Woods, Kumail Nanjiani and Amanda Crew — were asked about how the show has portrayed the gender imbalance in the industry. "We started out looking at the tech world, going, ‘This is just sort of absurd,'" said Judge, referring to the fact that it's roughly 85 percent male. "So if anything, you exaggerate it. I don’t think we’ve pulled back — but certainly, I wasn’t prepared for what a sensitive thing it was."

Judge, who sat on the panel moderated by New York Magazine's Stacey Wilson Hunt, went on to explain that he was taken aback by the critics who claimed that the show was only serving to worsen Silicon Valley's gender gap. "I did 13 seasons of King of the Hill, and nobody in those whole 13 years ever complained there weren’t enough women in Propane," he joked, adding that he was simply "making fun of another thing." He then acknowledged, "I mean, we probably think about it a little bit more than we might have if nobody had ever said anything about it, because you don’t want to piss everybody off. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s good to pretend that there’s not a gender gap there. You want to make fun of it, and that’s what we do."

Berg, for his part, agreed. "We’re a satire, and at a certain point the job is to hold a mirror up to a real thing and say, ‘This is what it is,'" he said, noting that some of the criticism is unfair. One example he pointed to is an episode in the first season where the show shot and aired actual footage from a tech conference. "A friend of mine who works in tech called me and said, “I got to tell you, you completely whiffed it on that TechCrunch Disrupt thing — you didn’t put any women in that.’ And I said, ‘You know that the shots we used of TechCrunch Disrupt were real shots of the real TechCrunch Disrupt? So, who do yo think actually whiffed it?’" said Berg. "We got a lot of flak about not putting enough women in the show, but now I think tech has started to actually turn its eyes inward and go, ‘Oh, maybe we’re the ones fucking this up, and just because you’re portraying us as we are, we can’t yell at you and say you’re the bad guy.’"

In fact, the show's most prominent female character (Crew's Monica) isn't a love interest of any of the leading male characters, which is extremely rare. "Every episode I open up the script and I’m like, 'If there is a fucking love scene in this, I’m out,'" said Crew to laughs from the crowd at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. "No, but it is one of the things that I love about Monica, and I don’t think is highlighted much in the press about the show, is that they have created a character who is not serving as the love interest or eye candy. It's maybe the first role I’ve done where that isn’t an element of it." Nanjiani joked of getting Middleditch and Crew's characters together, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you guys (addressing Berg and Judge) tried, and there wasn’t enough chemistry between them, right?" 

The Silicon Valley team also broached the topic of T.J. Miller's exit (the breakout actor decided to leave the series at the end of the fourth season). "We had kind of been through it before, so we knew going in that it was a surmountable challenge," said Berg, referring to the unexpected death of castmember Christopher Evan Welch in between the first and second seasons. "We knew it was going to be difficult." The co-showrunner added that it was getting harder and harder to write for Miller's character, Erlich, because he wasn't somebody who worked at the company, and that the writers had begun to even do storylines about how he was feeling marginalized. "And then TJ, for a number of reasons, just decided that his time had come and gone and he wanted to move on, and so we had the narrative challenge to keep him in the show and then it just became, 'OK, well maybe it's time to not keep him in the show."

As for the future of the comedy, Judge has said in the past that he sees the show running for about six seasons. But when asked whether the next season would be the show's last, the showrunner paused. "We don’t know. Looking at these episodes, it kind of takes on a new life and a second wind to me in a way," he said, teasing: "I think it could go on for a while; you never know."