TV Column: Can Silicon Valley survive without Erlich Bachman?

The tech nerds reboot for season five, but without TJ Miller

The four seasons of Silicon Valley to date have been an endless loop, a snake eating its own tail, Sisyphus rolling that boulder up that same hill again and again. It’s a testament to Mike Judge and his writing team that the show has remained consistently fun and hilarious as the Pied Piper team goes from boom to bust to boom to bust. When we left them at the end of season four, things had come good for Richard Hendricks and co. Not only had they gained financial security, they also somehow shed the cumbersome burden that was Erlich Bachman. The brilliance of Bachman, like so many other great buffoons, was his unwavering belief that, to paraphrase Butch Cassidy, he sees in 20:20 and the rest of the world wears bifocals. Despite every shred of evidence pointing to the contrary, Bachman was convinced he was a genius.

Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, Martin Starr and Thomas Middleditch return for season five

However, Bachman eventually became the one area where the show’s repetitiveness became an issue. While his vendetta with his protégé-turned-nemesis Jian Yang was mostly entertaining – if occasionally racially problematic – Erlich’s inadvertent sabotage and bluster became predictable and irritating. According to series creator Mike Judge, the irritation was off camera too, with Miller becoming “impossible” to work with. He’s since gone on to give bizarrely arrogant interviews, be accused of sexual assault and get arrested for calling in a fake bomb threat from a train. After Judge accused Miller of being too intoxicated to work and falling asleep between takes, Erlich’s final scene (out of his mind in an opium den in Tibet) takes on a deeper meaning.

Middleditch and Miller in happier times

Let’s not forget, Silicon Valley has already survived the loss of a beloved character once before, albeit in far sadder circumstances. It’s hard not to think that the series could have been even greater were it not for the tragic death of actor Christopher Evan Welch. But it found a way to forge ahead, as it does in the season five premiere. While Bachman commanded attention as the loudest character, the supporting players have quietly transformed themselves into the real stars. Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr play off each other as superbly as ever, while nobody does a better job at gossamer-thin civility than Matt Ross as the increasingly Machiavellian Hooli despot Peter Gregory.

The late Christopher Evan Welch’s character Peter Gregory was based on PayPal founder Peter Thiel

But we need to take a moment here to appreciate Silicon Valley’s MVP, Zach Woods. As unnervingly devoted lackey Jared, Woods is a master at playing someone who seems so incredibly straight and sensible, while drip feeding the disturbing details of his personal life with little concept of propriety. His best childhood friends were a Ziploc bag and an imaginary Harriet Tubman and his digestive system is so sensitive that his aunt used to call him “glasshole”.

And that’s only the tip of a dark, dark iceberg. It shouldn’t be funny but Woods makes it hilarious. On his own, Thomas Middleditch’s Richard Hendricks is just too uncomfortably awkward. Pair him with Jared and it becomes something much weirder and funnier. As we embark on the show’s fifth season, it seems to be in very, very good hands.

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