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Making A Graceful Exit

Morena Baccarin and T.J. Miller on a Comic Con panel
T.J. Miller, at Comic Con with Morena Baccarin in 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

This column demands an all-caps spoiler alert: If you have not seen the season four finale of HBO’s comedy “Silicon Valley,” STOP READING. This link will take you to a fascinating yet disturbing feature about a penguin love triangle instead.

If you are still reading this, you should know (you really SHOULD know) that near the end of this season’s final episode, the drug-addled Erlich Bachman is abandoned in a Tibetan opium den by Hooli founder Gavin Belson, who returns to California to reclaim his company from the disgraced Jack Barker. Before boarding the corporate jet, Belson hands the drug dealer a thick wad of cash, asking how long it would induce him to hold on to Bachman.

“Five years,” says the dealer. That’s good enough for Belson – and for the producers of “Silicon Valley.”

But it wasn’t good enough for T.J. Miller, the actor-comedian who plays Bachman. Although his character’s exit was written in a way that would allow Bachman to find his way back to the show, Miller vowed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that he will never again appear in “Silicon Valley” – the HBO version, not the actual place. “It felt like a breakup with HBO,” Miller told the trade paper.

It looks like one of those messy partings that inspire people to use “it’s complicated” as their social media relationship status. Miller’s stand-up comedy special is currently airing on HBO, and he continues to say all sorts of nice things about the cable network, observing that they “never treated me as an employee, always as a collaborator.”

“So I would love to work with them forever,” Miller added in the Hollywood Reporter interview. “It’s just that I will never be on Silicon Valley again.”

Well, why not?

Miller's explanation is that the show has peaked. He cited his own father’s comment that “it’s starting to kind of suck.” Yet at the same time, Miller credits the clever, perfectly in-character way in which Erlich Bachman was written out of the storyline. From my vantage point as a viewer – one who attended a high school full of the kind of socially awkward, achievement-driven geniuses who populate “Silicon Valley” – the show remains as funny as ever, with an underlying cautionary layer about how people are changed, or try to resist being changed, by the proximity of money, power and access to sex. It’s not just people, either. Check out those penguins.

While Bachman exited Silicon Valley in a peaceful (if drug-induced), happy haze, Miller departed with a noisy clang of opinion about everyone with whom he worked on the show. He offered effusive praise for several members of the ensemble cast, especially Jimmy O. Yang (Jian-Yang) and Zach Woods (Jared Dunn), and for creator Mike Judge and co-executive producer Clay Tarver. But he was notably less effusive about fellow actor Thomas Middleditch (Richard Hendricks), and made no bones about his hostility to former showrunner Alec Berg.

“I didn’t talk to Alec because I didn’t like Alec,” Miller told The Hollywood Reporter. He elaborated later: “He went to Harvard, and we all know those kids are f---ing idiots.”

I have never met Miller, Berg or the others Miller mentioned in the interview. I have no idea what transpired on the set or behind the scenes. I have no personal knowledge of whether Berg is smart or not – though since he has had a long and successful television career, including substantial work on “Seinfeld” and Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and in launching “Silicon Valley,” I doubt very much that he lacks intelligence. To my knowledge, he has thus far also had the grace not to respond in public to Miller’s comments.

It has been quite some time since I was Miller’s age, which is 36. I have seen a lot of people leave a lot of jobs since then. Inevitably, it happens at my own company. We all leave someday; the only thing we get to decide – sometimes – is when and how.

Some of us will only leave when they carry us out feet first. Some will get a celebratory send-off from peers as we move into retirement or another position or career. Some will bend over backward to ease the transition for those who remain behind.

Others will look for ways to bad-mouth their bosses or co-workers on the way out the door. A few will just try to evaporate. I once had someone go home on his second day on the job at lunchtime, complaining of a stomachache, and then telephone the same afternoon to say he was never coming back.

Not long ago, I heard a very smart lady tell a group of professionals in Nashville, “How you treat people on your way up is how you will be treated on your way down.” It is the sort of thing not everybody thinks about at age 36. Erlich Bachman seemed to have it figured out, however.

Any of us can meet a comeuppance someday. When someone tries to gouge out your eyes with his beak and beat in your brains with his solid-boned, flightless wings, you don’t want to find yourself all alone and left out in the cold.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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