TV

‘Silicon Valley’ Honchos Mike Judge And Alec Berg On Ending The Show And Satirizing Tech In 2019

All good things must come to an end… even though crappy things sometimes run 10, 12, 15 seasons. Just run it into the ground, really, trotting out vaguely familiar rehashes of long-since-departed character types. TV is weird, is my point, but sometimes storytellers push away from the table when the time is right and for Silicon Valley, it appears that the time is just about right with the sixth and final season debuting Sunday on HBO (at 10pm EST). At least that’s what series creator Mike Judge and showrunner Alec Berg think.

While some may be ready to applaud Judge and Berg’s commitment to safeguarding the story from the bad intentions of an over-extended run, you may have a different view. A view born from how much you’re going to miss the uniquely hilarious (and awkward and absurd and dickish) group of characters that launched from the minds of Judge, Berg, and the show’s writers before being finished off by the likes of actors Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, Zach Woods, Matt Ross and others. Tough sh*t? Kinda! But don’t think Judge and Berg aren’t sympathetic, that they aren’t going to miss writing for this group, and that they don’t have their (admittedly very reasonable) reasons for calling it a day. Because they do. And we’ve got proof.

Uproxx spoke with the pair ahead of the season premiere to discuss their reasons for ending it now, whether they’d ever revisit the show, their goals for sticking the landing with their finale, and Silicon Valley‘s place in a world so wholly influenced by morally dubious social media and tech companies.

What prompted the decision to end the show at this point?

Alec Berg: It just felt like it was time. It’s been six seasons and that felt like a good amount. The show is really aspirational and it’s about a group of people who are trying to achieve something and… It always felt like once they achieved it or once they became successful, it wasn’t a show about outsiders anymore. It wasn’t a show about people striving for something that was just out of their grasp. And we just didn’t think that doing a show about successful billionaires was going to feel the same. We had to let them succeed to a certain extent, or the audience would lose faith in them. So, six seasons of giving them a little bit of success but never quite letting them grab the ring, it just felt like that wasn’t a super sustainable premise and it just felt like we got to a place where it’s like, “Okay, we need to wrap it up.”

Ultimately, at the end of it, the question we were asking of each character was, what does success really mean to them, and how would they measure success financially and emotionally and creatively. It just was a satisfying ending.

Are you guys leaving anything on the table? Is there room for revisiting down the road?

Berg: I think it depends on what it pays. [Laughs]

The most honest answer I have ever received.

Berg: No, that’s not… Money is not an issue. Mike pays for everything. It depends on what the idea is, honestly.

Mike Judge: I’m losing money on this. But yeah, there’s probably a way… You know, Silicon Valley Babies. Animated.

Berg: [Laughs] No, I will say, shooting the finale, I kept thinking there’s got to be a way we can figure out a way to do this… some version of this again. Because each one of these actors has really, really figured their character out on an atomic level. And they all just inhabit them so thoroughly that to get to this level of kind of mastery and ownership of those characters and to not let them continue to do that would be a shame.

I know they’re all your favorites. You probably shouldn’t pick sides, but is there any character specifically that you’re walking away from them that’s going to hurt the most to not be able to write words for anymore?

Judge: I mean, outside of the main bunch, I was liking Jian-Yang for awhile, but I mean all of them are just… I feel really lucky. On this show, I feel like there really wasn’t ever a problem with people not getting the voice of the characters so much, really.

Berg: They all figured out a way to make their characters kind of unique from the others. There’s very little overlap. Somebody told me years ago that you can tell that something is really well defined and well written if you can cover all the characters names and you can read one or two pages of dialogue and you know, without seeing the names, who’s saying the lines. And I feel like I could probably do that with most of our scripts. Not because of the writing, just because of the way that these actors have each dug themselves their little trench. Their voices are so different from each other, but so consistent in themselves.

HBO

Not to single out one specific character or ask you to give too much away, but from the first episodes that I’ve seen, Jared seems to be on an emotional journey. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Judge: We talked about how with picking up ahead in time to Richard being a semi-celebrity in a much bigger company, but that means there’s less one on one time with Jared and Richard. We just kind of seized on that as being a fun thing to play with. I mean, the way Zach plays Jared, it’s just a really, really fun thing to watch. Even the physical comedy of it, of seeing Richard kind of get pulled through a crowd or… He can’t even get the limo driver to leave them alone, you know?

With regard to Jared’s murky back story, how much of that are you looking to reveal at the end here and how much of that do you want to just leave as a mystery?

Berg: I don’t know that anybody will ever understand the full depth of his depravity.

Judge: In the very beginning we didn’t, you know… a lot of this stuff really comes from just watching the way the actors play it and then just trying to write to that. And Zach would throw in these improvs in season one that sort of suggested some different…in one take, he had just thrown in this one sentence where they’re trying to talk about who Tara looks like. We ended up not putting it in the episode, but using that story later, which was he said that everyone’s trying to think which celebrity she looks like and he said, “She looks like my best friend Gloria’s granddaughter.” And it was just like, “Oh my God, his best friend is a 70-year-old woman. And he knows her granddaughter also.” He said the thing about foster care and then it just seemed really funny that this guy who just seems so clean and proper, had this horrible dark upbringing. You don’t want to do a show about his childhood.

Berg: Yeah, he’s oddly the most, sort of optimistic and kind of emotionally driven of the bunch. And for him to have come out of that vortex of hell, whatever it is… But I think it’s funniest when you just catch glimpses of it. It’s like staring at the sun.

You’ve done such a good job of capturing the ridiculousness of the tech world. What are some of the surprising revelations about how the show’s been received?

Berg: Well, I remember with season one, there was an episode that aired, I can’t remember which episode it was, the third or fourth. And [Netscape co-founder] Mark Andreessen spent an entire day just tweeting lines from the show and we were all just looking at our Twitter feeds going, “What the hell is going on?”

Judge: He really embraced the show and then we got to know him a little bit. I had been an engineer a long time ago and I’ve always seen it done. Like, Hollywood’s version of programmers and engineers just didn’t even remotely resemble the real world, which I always thought could be more interesting and more funny. The only times I’d seen it done was a movie called Primer and then one. of course, The Social Network... where I thought, “Those seem like real engineers.” And then I thought, “Well, we’re too late then because that’s already been done.” But we really did try to get it right. And when Alec came on board, he had as much enthusiasm for that as I did… I don’t know, for some reason, it just seemed like this show wanted to be accurate about that. And so, to have them embrace it was really satisfying for me.

We’ve seen the other side of things with tech where things are little more scary, a little more depressing. Is that something that you guys have felt as well, just writing within that world? Is it a little more depressing, is it a little bit scarier as the seasons have gone on now that things are a little more Orwellian with social media?

Berg: Well it certainly makes it a little harder to satirize, right?

It’s like the Veep problem.

Berg: It’s very similar. Dave Mandel, who I worked with for years, ran Veep and had the exact same sort of feelings. Where it’s like, “I don’t know if we were starting to show today that it would be the same show at all.” You have to take all of that heaviness into consideration and in a weird way it makes it a little harder to be silly, you know? Because the consequences are so high. Initially, this was a show about people who are trying to start a company, to be successful and make billions of dollars and just get this thing out into the world. And now I think if you don’t take the sort of moral implications into consideration, then you’re sort of being remiss.

Is it fair to say that that was a big driver for where you guys start this season?

Judge: Yes.

Berg: Somewhat. I just don’t think you can avoid it anymore. You know what I mean? If you’re doing a show about people in the tech business and you look at what the tech business is. The effect that it’s had… and you look at the election and… You know, when we started, Twitter was like, “Hey, we’re the guys that brought you the Arab Spring, you’re welcome.” You know? And now they might be the people who broke the world. [Laughs] It’s a slightly different landscape.

It’s interesting, we talk about it a lot in the room, actually, that chemistry has their sort of reckoning moment which was TNT, right? And Alfred Nobel felt so bad about it that he started giving out prizes to make up for what he had done. Physics obviously had The Manhattan Project, and Oppenheimer died regretting what he had done. And computer science, as a field, hasn’t quite had that moment of reckoning yet. And I feel like maybe we’re there.

Is the ending something that you wrote down years ago or is it something that’s evolved?

Berg: Well, we had an ending in mind that we had had for a couple of years. It was kind of similar to what we ended up doing and when we actually sat down to write it, we were like, “Okay, here’s the ending we had talked about,” and then it sort of morphed into something that’s a little different. But it has a lot of the same undertones. But the ending we kind of landed on is something we came up with this year.

Who are you trying to please with the conclusion? Is it you guys, or is it the audience, or is it a mixture?

Berg: I think you always feel pressure to deliver something that’s going to satisfy your fans. You know?

Judge: I don’t think we’re that far apart from what the fans like about this show.

Berg: Yeah. I was a writer at Seinfeld when we aired that finale and I personally loved it, but there was a feeling of like, “Oh, it was a bit of a middle finger to the audience.” Which I disagreed with, but I understand why people felt that way. And I didn’t want that to be to take away. But you also think about the characters and what do the characters deserve and what have they earned? What is success to them and what is failure to them and what’s a good, fair place for them to end up?

The final season of ‘Silicon Valley’ debuts on Sunday at 10pm ET on HBO

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