It turns out that “Silicon Valley” the show isn’t too far off from the real life Silicon Valley. The relevance of the series to the constantly evolving world of technology was a common theme at Sunday night’s PaleyFest panel, which was held at the Dolby Theater and hosted by Vulture editor Stacey Wilson Hunt. The event kicked off with a special treat: a screening of the first episode from the upcoming fifth season. Without spoiling too much, it’s safe to say that the laughs haven’t slowed down and that the Richard Hendricks-Gavin Belson rivalry is alive and well. Also, there’s lots of pizza.
Present for the panel were stars Thomas Middleditch, Zach Woods, Kumail Nanjiani, Amanda Crew, and Martin Starr. They were joined by series creator Mike Judge and executive producer Alec Berg. Everybody got in on the action as they reflected on the show’s real-world similarities and implications.
Silicon Valley’s Gender Problem
It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is prone to significant gender disparities, and Judge and Berg have no intentions of pulling any punches when it comes to satirizing that problem. “I don’t think it’s good to pretend there’s not a gender gap,” Judge said when asked whether he felt like his show could become too message-based.
But as Berg added, “We’re a satire. At a certain point, our job is to hold up a mirror to a real thing.”
Berg then went on to tell an early season story about the show shooting at TechCrunch Disrupt, a technology conference held in San Francisco. They used real shots of audiences at the conference in the show, but a friend of Berg’s who didn’t know they were real shots gave him a lot of flack for not including women. His response? “Who do you think actually whiffed it? Us or you?” He then expanded on the topic further, saying: “I think tech has now started to 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.’”
Television’s Romance Problem
The workplace is filled with plenty of women who are simply interested in doing their jobs and nothing more, but much of television would have you believe that the office romance is the main function of female characters. An important topic that was brought up during the conversation was the fact that Monica (Amanda Crew) had never been involved in a romantic storyline during the show’s run.
“I don’t think enough people recognize that quality,” Crew said, pointing out that this was the first part she played that didn’t involve some type of romance. “They created a character who’s not serving as the love interest or the eye candy.”
Dealing With the Departure of T.J. Miller
The producers did acknowledge the relatively infamous exit of Miller at the end of Season 4, which they tackled knowing it wasn’t impossible: “We had kind of been through it before, so we knew going in that it was a surmountable challenge,” Judge said, referring to the death of Christopher Evan Welch between Season 1 and Season 2.
Berg also elaborated on the situation from a story standpoint: “The Erlich character was getting harder and harder to write into the show because he wasn’t someone who worked at the company…It was at a point where it was going to be really hard to find an organic way to get the Erlich character into the show anyway, so from that standpoint, it was kind of time. And then T.J., for a number of reasons, just decided that his time had come and gone and he wanted to move on, so we had the narrative challenge to keep him in the show and then it became ‘OK well, maybe it’s just time to not have him on the show.'”
Technology as a Coping Mechanism
Zach Woods was responsible for one of the funniest and one of the most profound moments during the panel when he recalled a conversation he was having with a writer about the “coping mechanism” of new technology.
“If you feel like you can’t connect, you create Facebook and then you’re able to connect in this sort of controlled way,” he explained. “If you feel like you’re smarter than everyone, you create Google. We have all assimilated into the culture of socially inept people’s adaptations. We’re living in a coping mechanism.”
The Scary Side of Technology
During the panel, Berg and Nanjiani told stories about what they learned about technology in the process of their research. The former mentioned Alexa and the fact that it was essentially listening in on and transcribing our lives. He expressed concern that the engineers he met with didn’t seem to place much weight on the morality issues surrounding the technology. “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should,” he said. On the show’s ability to start conversations about the dark side of technology: “I think tech as a business has started to realize that they may have broken the world…[and done] overwhelming damage to the moral and essential fabric of life.”
Nanjiani also talked about a program that allowed people to take one person’s face and put it on another. Most of the people he talked to seemed to think it was really cool, but he personally felt it was a bit scary and intrusive.
Characters Mirroring Reality
When asked about Gilfoyle, Martin Starr said that “a lot of people come up to [him] and say Gilfoyle is a guy who works in their office.”
Berg also praised Middleditch for his tireless work portraying a believable character, emphasizing the amount of research involved in learning technical dialogue. “In a lot of ways, it’s a thankless job,” Berg said.
Responded Middleditch, “I’ve been nominated for an Emmy, so…”
Getting Silicon Valley Right
Speaking of research, the show employs consultants who help make the sets look “as photo-real as possible” and edit the dialogue to make it more accurate to real life. “There are a lot of constraints we put on ourselves by trying to get things sort of photoreal,” Berg said. “But I think ultimately…the upside of writing something that feels real and is rooted in reality outweighs the difficulties that it’s created.”
There were also some fun tidbits that accompanied the healthy dose of serious discussion, including:
Everyone Wanted to Be Erlich
Woods, Nanjiani, Starr, and Josh Brener all read for the role of Erlich, but the role eventually went to T.J. Miller. Thankfully, everyone ended up with roles that worked for them. One true fact followed by two not so true ones: Middleditch’s character’s name was initially Thomas, Nanjiani’s was initially “Aziz Ansari,” and Woods’ was initially “Slenderman.”
Dinesh and Gilfoyle Have a Thing for Each Other
Nanjiani and Starr were asked about why their characters hate each other, and they responded with an elaborate description of their relationship. “It comes from a place of passion,” Nanjiani said. “We’ve been together so long, we’ve forgotten the difference between love and hate.”
Jared’s Dark Childhood
Woods got his start in comedy in the improv world, which he is still very much active in today. As a result, there’s been a lot of improv done on set, oftentimes courtesy of Woods and oftentimes revealing strange facts about Jared’s upbringing.
“There’s been a lot of dark stuff,” Judge said. “Almost all of it came from Zach.” Hopefully, at some point, we see the storyline involving Jared’s “best friend Gloria’s granddaughter.”
Hypothetical “Silicon Valley” Prequel Titles
Middleditch: “Young Sheldon.” Nanjiani: “Halt and Catch Fire.” Judge: “The Horrible Childhood of Jared.” Nanjiani’s got the fewest laughs, but we appreciated the shoutout to that underappreciated show.
Will Season 6 Be the Final Season?
There was no confirmation or denial on that front, but Judge garnered a ton of applause when he said: “It could go on for a while. You never know.”
Season 5 of “Silicon Valley” premieres on HBO on March 25.