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Adieu, 'Silicon Valley'

Hello HBO, for T.J. Miller.



The season finale of "Silicon Valley" just wound down with T.J. Miller's blowhard stoner/investor Erlich Bachman opium-blissed out on a pile of pillows in a Tibetan rug shop. Judging by the interviews Miller has been giving lately, that's quite likely where the series leaves Erlich for its duration. Scheduling shoots around his other gigs — voice and film acting, stand-up comedy — had simply worn him out, and his single-note character, no matter how popular, wasn't doing it for him anymore. He told HBO he'd be walking after this season, the show's fourth. "People joke about it, but I'm the hardest-working man in show business, maybe," Miller said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "So they were like, 'Let's make this easier for both of us.' And I was like, 'I think this is an amazing opportunity.' "

For fans of the show, it's a shame to see Erlich fade off into a haze of blue smoke. Last year the show was nominated for an Emmy for its casting, and Miller was an indelible part of the ensemble's chemistry. He argues, though, that he didn't feel the character was advancing (this is true; in fact all of Season 4 felt like frenetic marching in place for "Silicon Valley"). Moreover, Miller felt that as a comedian first and an actor second, he simply wasn't funny enough. This is, of course, up to him as an artist, and an artist looking to get paid. No coincidence, perhaps, that just days before the "Silicon Valley" finale, HBO debuted his hour-long comedy special "Meticulously Ridiculous," filmed in his hometown of Denver during his standup tour of the same name.

If you're into Miller, it's certainly worth a watch. It'd be hard to come away from it, though, and think, "Wow, there's a guy who should definitely quit his day job." Shaggy, bow-tied, red-sneakered and wearing a too-big suit that he keeps drenched — dude simply loves pouring water onto his face — Miller laconically veers through jokes that tilt physical, absurdist, observational or simply slapstick. And while it's all amusing enough, he never hits that supreme level of funny that lets you lose your train of thought, lets you forget yourself. It feels like one of the cleverest guys you know came over a bit blazed and started riffing.

"When I am very, very high, I speak very formally, so as if to appear not to be high," Miller says at one point. "But I speak so formally that no one would ever talk like that unless they were very, very high." He then launches into a story about getting so high at a motel that when he calls the desk to complain about the TV he speaks in this self-outing elevated diction ... and then gets trapped in a time loop during a silence with the clerk, when he can't figure out whose turn it is to speak. It sounds like a plausible lived moment for Miller, or for Erlich, whose constant bluster always papered over his abiding insecurities. It would be funny enough as a quick aside over beers. In a full set, it arrives as a storytelling trap that Miller falls into occasionally: a decent setup that leaves no ladder to take the merely amusing to the sublime.

Comedy is hard as hell in the era of Twitter, when all the good jokes are made and disseminated at ludicrous speed, and when joke thieves will snatch up a pithy line and repackage it to greater effect (or at least fame) just as quickly. Miller the comic feels like a pre-internet creation with a few of Reddit's shower thoughts sprinkled in. ("Pets are actually friend-slaves" is an observation that launches into a bit that hits the right mix of unnerving and silly.) But Miller's character on "Silicon Valley" was a fantastic creation for an internet era of unvarnished bullshitting and low-tech hustling to obscure the fact that no one really knows what the hell is going on. Erlich served as a foil to the Type-A blizzard of finance and deal-making and networks and robots — the everyman who assures the audience that so much of the intelligence is, in fact, artificial. Post-"Silicon Valley," Miller is still an everyman, but one who, it turns out, might be best served if he finds another structure to hold him, another pack of squares to deflate. If you're raging against a machine, it turns out an actual machine is nice to have around.

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