A discussion of the season premiere—and Peter Gregory tribute—with 'Silicon' standout T.J. Miller.
Finally—something to do besides rewatching “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” and double-checking all the math to make sure that 800 guys can indeed be pleasured in under 10 minutes! The long, boring off-season ended on Sunday night as HBO kicked off season 2 of Silicon Valley, the audacious tech comedy about the little start-up that could. “Sand Hill Shuffle” was a winning welcome-back episode, jacking up the stakes for our Pied Piper crew—the glow from their $50,000 win over Hooli’s Nucleus at TechCrunch Disrupt is fading fast—while paying proper tribute to Peter Gregory, played superbly by the late Christopher Evan Welch. Instead of a traditional recap this season, we are going to discuss each episode—and perhaps a few semi-related topics —with someone who knows a thing or three about the show: actor/comedian/DMV subversive T.J. Miller, the man behind offbeat stoner/soliloquist/landlord/Pied Piper minority shareholder/presumably great lover Erlich Bachman. With that introduction out of the way, let’s welcome T.J. to the conversation.
T.J., thanks for signing on as an EW special guest blogger/critical thinker. This is so exciting. I’ve been wanting to do this ever since the February when I was ten years old.
That is a while. By the way, there’s one thing I’ve always wondered but was too scared to ask. What do the dots in your name stand for? Periods in between being myself.
It makes sense. Now, for our first conversation about season 2, you and I are having this conversation long distance. Like super long distance. Like, you’re-all-the-way-in-Japan long distance. (A) What are you doing there? And (B) are people on the street recognizing you as Erlich and asking you to slap their drug-dealing children? (A) I came here because my wife, Kate, had work and is here for a wedding. And (B) the latter not the former. A couple people have come up and said, “Hey, are you T.J. Miller?” They’ll recognize me from She’s Out of My League but Silicon Valley hasn’t really caught on in Japan yet. Or I haven’t caught on in Japan.
I like to think it’s the former. What’s the Yogi Bear recognition factor over there? Through the roof. So much that no one mentions it. It’s sort of a quiet veneration from afar. It’s adoration but at a distance. Sometimes they’ll mumble Japanese versions of lines that I’ve done, but I don’t speak Japanese. But I feel it.
Okay, so the episode opens in AT&T Park, with the Pied Piper gang getting wooed by the first of several VC firms. It’s appropriately absurd and larger than life way to open the season, with Richard playing in the big leagues, literally up to bat. If you had to ballpark it for us, would you say that everything is a bit bigger and more dramatic this year? Oh, yeah, because there’s more money. And it’s also equally strange that it’s the reason that I might meet up with one of the founders of Dropbox, Drew Houston [who makes a cameo]. He said he was going to be in Tokyo for the weekend, so it all actually is true to life that when you get to a certain point, you rent out Giants stadium and you rent out a couple of the Giants, and everything becomes more gigantic. The problems are more gigantic. The fun is more gigantic. I think the thing that Erlich is the most ecstatic about is that everybody has got their eyes on him finally. He feels like he’s that much closer to being a Silicon Valley player. The stakes are higher. It’s like me doing Deadpool. At a certain point, visibility is so high that if you f— it up, people are going to know that and talk about it and you can really screw yourself over.
I’m sure you’ll crush it in Deadpool. Thanks, dude. I’m positive it’s going to be the best two-and-a-half scenes of your life.
Did any of the cast members actually take batting practice at AT&T Park after the scene was finished? No, that was in real life also. We practiced not wanting to bat.
Erlich has a great line about the Winklevii, who make a cameo: “They’re like two genetically enhanced Ken dolls. Do you know how much bitcoin they’re worth?” Do you have a Winkledote to share with us? A Winkledobra?
A Winkledote. A winklejoke?
No, a Winkledote. Like an anecdote. Oh, a Winkledote. I thought you said Winklejoke or a Winkle GoPro, which I have both of. There is a Winkle GoPro where they put two GoPros on the Winklevii and they show you life from their perspective. It’s very expensive. It costs, like, 300,000 bitcoin.
Wow. Yeah, no one knows how much that is. So, my Winkledote is that unfortunately—emphasis on unfortunately—they were really nice. You wanted them to be some weird, evil twins, Facebook-settling-out-of-court couple of guys, but they were very nice. They enjoyed the satire the most. They really both identify with it and have a good sense of humor about themselves. They’re much bigger than I am—that is one thing that is uncomfortable. They’re every handsome and very athletic but the real thing is they’re much larger than me. They’re both a couple inches taller and about, I don’t know, 100 pounds lighter. So it’s strange to look up at two perfect specimens of people. Also, you don’t know which one to look at because you don’t want to make the other one feel bad, but you don’t know which is which, so you can’t tell whose feelings you’re hurting. It’s a win-lose situation. Or a lose-win.
But to your advantage, you’re 6’1’’, about 250 pounds, and there’s one of you. Yeah, but Erlich feels that he doesn’t need more than one of himself.
The world can’t handle more than one Erlich. No, certainly not. Erlich is two Erlich twins already. It would be quadruplets if there were two of him.
Dropbox CEO Drew Houston and Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel are among the cameos in this episode. Executive producers Mike Judge and Alec Berg said that it was hard to lock down actual Silicon Valley power players for guest spots last year because people didn’t know the show and were nervous. But this year it was much easier. Who was the best actor of the bunch? The best actor was [venture capital investor] David Cowan because he was so meticulous about his silent part where he speaks to the Winklevoss twins and then walks away. He was very specific in what he was going to be talking about, what his approach was going to be. I was very, very proud of him. But I almost loved it too much when I found out that the Dropbox guys were wearing clothing that wasn’t a costume. It wasn’t wardrobe. And I found that out by telling one of them, “Oh my god, that sweatshirt is hilarious!” And he’s like, ‘Thanks!’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s perfect, right? I’m going to totally wear that.” And they’re like, “Oh, these are our real clothes.” And I said, “Oh, I’m really embarrassed.” And they said, ‘No, really don’t be. We think it’s a weird sweatshirt.” And the guy’s like, “Wait, what?” He wasn’t party to the fact that everyone else thought it was a funny, weird sweatshirt that no one would wear unless they were on a show making fun of themselves.
NEXT: The sad return of Javeed…
It’s a nice touch to see Javeed again, someone we met in season 1—I think that’s anther way that Silicon Valley is like Hollywood. These people stick around. Failure or success, they’re still on the scene. And they learn from each other’s failures and successes. And it’s fun to see at the beginning of last season, he was riding high on the hog and now, as most people in Silicon Valley experience, he’s down and out, like a f—ing Rocky Mountain trout.
So Javeed lays it all out for Richard that mo’ money is indeed mo’ problems, as he had crashed and burned running his company. He advises Richard: “Don’t take money from the wrong dudes, or you’ll get smoked.” I like the fraught money game that the writers are setting up this season: Don’t take it from the wrong people, but also don’t take too much from the right people, either, or you’ll won’t be able to meet expectations and wind up in a down round of financing, and then you’re screwed. I like your equation—mo’ money is actually equal and is proportionate to—and probably has a casual relationship with mo’ problems. What we realize is that Silicon Valley is difficult to traverse and is as dangerous as anything else. And you can have a great idea, or even a terrible idea but if it isn’t handled correctly, then it can go away. Much like a little thing we like to call the electric car. So Richard is realizing, ‘Whoa, there are a lot of business components to this,’ and Erlich knew this and is like, “Okay, we have to take other meetings,” but he’s not part of the idea of taking less money. None of them have had this experience before, none of them exactly know how to traverse it. And that’s a lot what it’s like.
On a more serious note, the writers used this episode to address the fate of Peter Gregory, who, as we discovered, had died. (Christopher Evan Welch passed away from lung cancer halfway through filming season 1. I thought they handled an awful situation really well, managing to honor the character but also be weird and funny, having him die during but not from a hippo attack while on a safari. In the first scene, Erlich and Richard ask Monica how he expired, and she can only dole out pieces of half-information, leaving you guys to awkwardly keep guessing what actually happened to him. And I think the reason that moment works is the punchline lands as gentle quirk. (“He hadn’t run in a long time, maybe ever, and he just… that was it.”) If the writers had gone for a blunt, hard laugh there by giving Peter a crazy manner of death, maybe it wouldn’t have felt right given that the actor is dead. And if they had gone with a straightforward death, it may have felt too stiff. There are two interesting things about this. One, I agree with you. And that is Mike Judge’s way, to handle something that has a lot of severity to it with great subtlety. And two, we couldn’t stop laughing through that scene. Thomas kept touching his heart like a weird, effeminate Victorian girl. And we couldn’t stop laughing about the hippo thing. And the way he died actually felt appropriate. They handled the way that Peter Gregory would have died perfectly. And the scene explaining his death was so ridiculous that we were laughing the whole time, and that’s what Chris would have wanted.
We meet Peter’s replacement, Laurie Bream, the new managing partner, who, like Peter, is socially awkward. They’re wired differently. He’s more of a blue-sky dreamer—by the way, I would’ve loved to have heard his logic streams on the $30 million ostrich farm in Morocco or the genetically modified cranberry fungus or the invisibility technology—whereas she is hyper-pragmatic and by-the-numbers to a fault. I’m guessing she’ll alternate between ally and obstacle for Pied Piper, perhaps at the same time. Yeah, Raviga plays a big part in Pied Piper’s future. The actress that plays that, Suzanne [Cryer], is just pitch perfect. She has an energy that is nothing like Peter but you can totally see Peter Gregory hiring her. That was exciting for us, knowing that she was going to be part of the situation, especially because Monica’s a big part of the show and Monica’s going to have to deal with her.
Monica has some experience in odd-personality management. Think about how long Monica would have been trying to figure out Peter Gregory and then finally she does and he dies. Now she’s got to figure out this weird personality.
Erlich persuades Richard to take some meetings with various VC firms because of the key man clause, which gives Raviga investors the right to cash out in the event of the managing partner’s exit from the company. This leads to some of the funniest moments of the episode. After realizing that some VCs are negging them as a negotiating ploy, Erlich says, “If they want to negotiate using hostility and rudeness, they picked the wrong guy.” You have some great insults: “Your logo looked like a sideways vagina. I find that to be racist, don’t you?” And: “One of you is the least attractive person I’ve ever seen, I’m not going to say who.” I’m guessing you shot some amazing insults that didn’t make the cut? Oh, god, I mean, it was so fun—probably one of the most fun scenes to shoot. Yeah, I ripped a hundred lines of just awful, mean Erlich things and they were a lot of fun. “You married poorly.” Lot of good stuff. There was a lot of stuff about baked goods. There was one where I left after insulting them and then took all of their food. I ate a piece of fruit and said, “This is supposed to be melon but tastes like f—ing cantaloupe!” Stuff like that. It was just, really really fun. They let you loose. And the ones they got from Thomas were great. He had so many riffs. One time, he said, “And if you don’t fund us, then I’ll kill you!” And then I was like, “That’s not a threat. You don’t need to pursue legal action. We’re just going to get out of here.” It was as fun to cover for Thomas as it was to do my own stuff.
His “Did you fart? Are you a farter?” riff was amazing. So, did you actually drop trou and shoot the moment that’s referenced where you put your balls on the table, but the producers decided that it was funnier if it was just referred to? I dropped trou. They never filmed my penis or my balls thankfully, because my genitalia couldn’t be handled by a large portion of the Midwest. But yeah, I thought it was very savvy of them just to leave that out—and to the imagination.
After a bidding war, you guys ultimately take a smaller amount of funding than you can—$10 million at a $50 million valuation, half of what Raviga offered, after Monica tells Richard that it’s a crazy runaway valuation and will sink Pied Piper. It’s a big leap of faith on everyone’s end. What did you think about that twist? Really smart. And I think it’s commentary on these companies that have runaway valuation. The big joke about Amazon is that they’ve never turned a profit. It’s more speculative than Wall Street because it doesn’t deal with hard numbers. They try to translate to that but we’re still dealing with ideas.
Let’s talk about Peter’s memorial service, which closes out the episode. It’s sad and almost a bit uncomfortable to see those banners of him—you can’t help but let reality seep in. But in the end, that scene feels like an appropriate way to send him off. It was strange knowing the character was in limbo, off-screen working on his island at the end of last season, and it’s nice to get that closure. We posted another story in which you and your castmates as well as the producers talk about this tribute and Chris, but what do you remember about filming that scene? I imagine it wasn’t easy. It was strangely emotional to be at this kind of actual memorial…. There was going to be a joke about the seating arrangement and trying to get the best seat at the memorial, but that got cut. I thought that was so funny. Because even in the midst of this grief, you’re still having people saying, “This is an event, so how do I get to the best place so I can be seen the most?” There was also a joke cut at the bar scene when we were celebrating and Richard ran into Javeed. Erlich was like, “We’ve got to be by the window. It’s not enough that we’re celebrating. People have to see us celebrating.” All of that was very interesting commentary on when you do achieve in Silicon Valley or when you do pass as an icon, how people react to that.
Do you have a favorite moment of Chris from the set? My favorite moments with Chris were off the set and hearing how positive he was about the show, what we were doing, and that this was some of the best work he’d ever done, and every day was really funny, so that makes it really fun. But the sesame seed scene—I mean, I was crying laughing. I couldn’t even hold it together. I had to leave the room.
That’s an Emmy-worthy moment. That’s the thing. He could have won an Emmy for this, but I don’t think he cared. We lost one of these incredible actors who wasn’t caught up in the Hollywood tornado.
The joke at the memorial about quantifying Peter’s contributions to mankind by breaking it down into three components via PowerPoint was a good example of how you guys managed to walk the line respectfully yet still go for jokes. I love how Spiegel works a defense of Snapchat into his eulogy. “That’s just the kind of guy he was—warm, generous, and not disappointed in Snapchat.” And the #ThankYouPeter hashtag joke! Instead of the seating arrangement joke, they went with joke that even the people eulogizing him were back and forth in a fight about whether or not his investments in their company were successful or not, and I just love that. The Snapchat CEO did a great job. And those guys aren’t actors.
The memorial scene was heartfelt and poignant at moments, but didn’t betray the vibe of the series and still satirized the self-aggrandizing nature of the Valley. Sometimes, when a comedy has to a deal with a serious topic, it can plays it too safe. That’s the point—it’s still a comedy. And we still have a tone to be true to. And when they write me off in season 4, voluntarily, it’ll be the same sort of deal.
Noted. Finally, we get a nice humanizing touch of Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), who, in eulogizing his old friend that became a rival, admits that he and Peter let business get between them. When he says, “I will miss my friend… Goodbye, Pete,” you feel a tiny bit of dust in the room. And then Richard says, “Maybe he is a human after all,” which sets up the sucker punch: He gets a text informing him that Gavin is filing a lawsuit, claiming that he stole Pied Piper from Hooli. So maybe we’ll call Gavin semi-human? There is a human side of a man who wears aqua sox to work, let’s just begin there. But that text that Richard receives is a return to reality. There’s an interesting dichotomy between someone being genuinely grateful to be in the presence of or interacting with these iconic geniuses, but they’re still going to f—ing sue your ass.
That’s a game-on moment, and it feels like it’s going to be a long one with a lot of lead changes. I wish that that was the only problem that they’re about to have. What we begin to see is that it’s game on and the game is only going to get more complicated. A lawsuit, although overwhelming, is the least of these guys’ worries in terms of all the pitfalls, trials, and tribulations of Silicon Valley.
All right, let’s end on a segment that I’d like to call TJ’s Tease of the Week. Or Tease J. Miller, if you prefer. I prefer Tease J. Miller, without a doubt.
What’s one hint you can give readers about next week’s episode? Well, my Tease J. Miller would be that there are going to be some problems with other investors, not just Raviga and Hooli. We begin to see that this world is made up of quite a few different players. That, and I do not put my balls on any more tables. So ladies, you can cancel your subscription now, because it ain’t happening.
Thanks T.J., we’ve taken up enough of your time. What are you going to do to Japan now? You know how the Japanese feel about Godzilla, right? I’m the equivalent of Godzilla to Japan—if Godzilla was a sexually inadequate, constantly hungry American. Let me put this way: When T.J. does Japan, Japan doesn’t notice.
Watch the trailer for the second season of Silicon Valley below: