Silicon Valley TJ Miller

Last month, we learned that actor/comedian T.J. Miller, who has been a staple of the first four seasons of the hilarious HBO comedy Silicon Valley, will not be returning for the show’s fifth season to reprise his role as Erlich Bachman. This past Sunday night, the season four finale revealed the character’s fate, but how will the show handle the character’s departure moving forward? Is there a chance we see Miller pop up again in a future season? We’ve sifted through a bunch of interviews given by the showrunners and Miller himself, and found the answers to what impact the Silicon Valley TJ Miller split will have on the show.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the Silicon Valley season four finale.

After traveling to China to track down former Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), Erlich and Gavin stop at a Tibetan opium den so Gavin can make a phone call. When he hangs up, Gavin realizes that Erlich has smoked opium in the other room; impatient to get back to his former company, Gavin pays off the owner to allow Erlich to stay there for the next five years and then heads back to the U.S. That’s the last we see of Erlich.

Why did Miller leave?

In a bizarre and must-read interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Miller explained some of the reasons for his departure from the series:

They came to me and said, “Look, we’re not going to pick up your contingency because we want to offer you doing five episodes out of the 10, or three episodes.” And then I said, “Oh perfect, I had been wanting to ask if you guys would be open to me leaving the show.”…

They said, “We just wanted you to have more time to do all of the things you’re doing.” And I said, “Well, the best way for me to be involved in the show is by no longer being on it.” I swear to God, that’s why the internet broke. Everybody was like, “What the f— are you talking about? You’re on this successful show. Don’t you want three more years of solid acting work and don’t you want to be a famous television actor?” And I was like, “No, not really.” I’d like to parasail into the Cannes Film Festival for The Emoji Movie because that’s the next new funny thing that will make people laugh.

The actor criticized the show’s storylines for being “cyclical” (which, to be fair, is a valid criticism), and wanted to be the one who broke the cycle:

And so I thought, what if suddenly the whole thing changed? Where’s the guy at the house? He’s gone. Richard [Thomas Middleditch] doesn’t have a foil. Jian Yang [Jimmy O. Yang] comes to prominence. All these other characters will change and grow. I read something today that I thought was really sweet, which was that Erlich as a character never really belonged. I mean, really, think about that…

If they had truly had enough of him, which is what they’re always saying, then why wouldn’t he just exit? What if they’re really suddenly like, he’s gone? Now what? Who does Richard have to complain about? Who is f—ing up their situation? Where is that confidence in the show? Where is that blowhard that everybody needs?…

So that all interested me, and most of all it made me laugh really hard. That was the impetus behind walking. That’s sort of the impetus behind everything I do: It just makes me laugh. It’s not about money, it’s not about any of that stuff. It’s certainly not about fame, which is destructing my relationships with my family. It’s about things that are interesting and funny…

But for me, television, unlike women and wine, does not get better with age. So I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to leave at the height of the success of the show?” Knowing that Kumail [Nanjiani] is brilliant, Zach Woods is the greatest improviser alive, Thomas Middleditch is one of the funniest people of all, Martin Starr is the deadpan comedian of our generation, what if I just stepped aside and let them continue the show and see what it becomes?

One person who certainly isn’t worried about Miller leaving the show is Miller himself, who has been lashing out on Twitter at people who claim he’ll regret making the decision to bail:

Could we ever see Erlich on Silicon Valley again?

Co-showrunners Alec Berg and Mike Judge purposefully didn’t kill off Miller’s character in case the actor decides that he’d like to appear on the show again. When TVLine asked Berg if Erlich could return one day, he seemed unsure, saying, “Never say never. There’s no plan for that right now.” Judge echoed that sentiment, telling THR, “That I don’t know for sure, but that’s probably the last [you’ll see him]. Down the road, if there’s a season six, I don’t know. You never know. But that’s the last for a while at least.”

Miller, for his part, was more definitive with his answer:

I would love to work with [HBO] forever. It’s just that I will never be on Silicon Valley again. That character, as you have seen, disappeared into the ether. And he did it at a time when no one was sick of him, when he had worn thin but not worn out.

When prodded if he could possibly change his mind about that decision, Miller doubled down on his statement:

No, I don’t know if you’ve seen my work, but I don’t particularly flounder and flip-flop on stuff. It’s all pretty mediocre but delivered with a very solid fist, just like Erlich.

How will the show change in the wake of his absence?

When TVLine asked Berg about whether the show might replace Erlich with another character, like Haley Joel Osment’s VR guru Keenan Feldspar, the co-showrunner was non-commital:

It’s too early in the process. Erlich brought an energy into the mix that I think will be sorely missed. So whether we bring in a de facto replacement or whether it’s just having more characters that add a different energy [remains to be seen]. But in terms of concrete plans, nothing’s been decided yet.

Speaking with THR, Judge seemed to dismiss the notion of outright replacing Erlich:

We’ve talked a little bit about it. We start writing the next season on Monday. A lot of times in the writing, it’s almost a struggle because we have a lot of characters in the show and a lot of good ones. I’ll certainly miss having him in the show. I don’t think we’re going to say, “Hey, here’s a new character to replace him,” or anything like that. New characters come along. The tech world is so rich with weird characters. I think we still have more characters we can still pull out of the bag. But I also think we can do a lot more with Suzanne Cryer’s character and certainly Zach and Jian Yang. I’m actually looking forward. I think we can shake things up in a way…

We’d certainly like to have [Osment] back. We haven’t figured out how yet because we haven’t started writing, but we all really liked working with him. I wouldn’t look at that as someone who replaces Erlich because there’s a very different energy to him, but I really like that character and VR is a huge thing in the tech world so it makes sense with that, too.

Miller himself has some ideas about how the show could progress, telling EW:

Some people… are saying, ‘What exactly is this show if Erlich isn’t on it?’ I think maybe a more focused show that is using some of the barely tapped talents. You’ve got Josh Brener [who plays Big Head], a brilliant comedian. You’ve got Chris Diamantopolous [who plays Russ Hanneman], a brilliant talent. Most of all, you have Amanda Crew, this brilliant, flexible [actress], she’s bizarre in her humor, and we haven’t gotten to see a bunch of that. I love the idea of seeing more of that.

As for an end-game for the series overall, Judge says he’s looking at a six-season trajectory right now, with an outside chance that the show could last longer if someone comes up with a good enough idea that could extend its life a little longer. But those who are worried Silicon Valley may just sputter out at the end should put those fears to rest, because Judge reveals that he and his team are working toward something very specific:

Yeah, we have a series finale, a place ahead that we’ve talked about for a while now just amongst ourselves. That’s how we’re thinking of it.

Silicon Valley season 5 will debut sometime in 2018 on HBO. In the meantime, be sure to catch up with all of our season 4 reviews here.

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