With the fifth season of HBO’s hit comedy Silicon Valley set to premiere this Sunday, there’s one issue that seems to be preoccupying everyone: the absence of Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller). It’s not a question that goes without merit. Bachman was a founding member of Pied Piper, he was the reason that they got funded back in the early days of the show, and his blowhard personality and radical facial hair was a near-constant source of amusement.
Which is why when it was announced partway through the show’s fourth season last year that Miller would not be returning to the show he helped make popular, people panicked. He owned the incubator that saw the birth of Richard’s algorithm, and helped foster it into a profitable, potentially world-changing company. How could the show carry on without his signature bravado and nonstop slew of profane one-liners?
The answer, simply put, is very easily.
If you look back at the show’s fourth season, and even before that, Bachman had been relegated to the background. Pied Piper was up and running, (though not without incidents), and Richard’s (Thomas Middleditch) confidence had began to show itself — almost pushing him into supervillain territory near the season four finale.
And Bachman had… not really done anything of consequence. Slowly, he’d become the odd-man out. In season three, his likability had become irreparably damaged by taking advantage of Big Head’s (Josh Brener) money, “helping” him create his own incubator and ultimately depleting his vast fortune.
This most recent season saw him alternating between insulting and attempting to leech off of Keenan Feldspar’s (Haley Joel Osmont) VR headset. He even leverages his “friendship” with Feldspar to get a job with the newly-launched venture capitalist company Bream-Hall, who, instead of taking their offer of a finder’s fee, he negotiates down for considerably less money in exchange for a face-saving job title.
Such was the nature of Bachman’s character near the end, a character so desperate to stay in the swing of things he’d do literally anything — however degrading — to stay relevant.
Granted, with Miller’s exit already impending, and Miller eventually giving a bridge-burning interview to The Hollywood Reporter where he disparaged Silicon Valley co-creator Alec Berg, assuring his character’s arc would be wrapped up by their fourth season and eliminating the chance to appear in three episodes of the upcoming fifth season, which co-creator Mike Judge told THR in a separate interview, was the plan at one point.
As a result, Miller’s bridge-burning interview, and his widely-publicized sexual assault allegations, has meant that Bachman will be left left high on opium abandoned in a Tibetan monastery. His parting words, “Big…Head,” a bittersweet callback to the show’s pilot episode, when Bachman was a character who was not only relevant, but essential to the cast’s overall chemistry.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always think back fondly to the days of Bachman’s braggadocio and delightfully stoned irreverence. I’ve even long-advocated for “You just brought piss to a shit fight” to become part of our collective lexicon.
Now, with Bachman decidedly out of the picture for good, Judge and company no longer have to work to create numerous, meandering subplots that give him something — anything — to do. Instead, they show can foster the remaining four principle cast members, Richard, Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Jared (Zach Woods), and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani, who was nominated for an Oscar along with his wife, Emily V. Gordon last year).
It could also very well mean more Jin-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang), which is a potential goldmine of comedy in and of itself.
With this kind of talent left, Bachman’s absence gives all four of them a chance to further grow, perhaps even out of Bachman’s incubator. Which was one of the most frustrating things about the show’s overall story in more recent seasons.
We need to see Pied Piper evolve beyond a handful of guys sitting around a living room writing code. We need to see the company, and its characters, really take the next step into actual legitimacy within the ever-expanding world that Silicon Valley has built over the last four years. Hell, maybe we’ll even get a chance to see Monica (Amanda Crew) and Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) expand their vastly underused roles, which could go a long way in making the show shed its skin and grow past the Peter Pan-esque sausage party it’s been (rightfully) criticized for.
And now, with Bachman out of the picture, it seems like we just might finally get that chance.
Silicon Valley returns for its fifth season March 25 on HBO