Any series typically tries not to draw attention to a star’s absence when he/she leaves the show — but that’s not how the fifth season of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” is treating former star TJ Miller’s exit.
“At first I was worried about making the show without TJ’s character Erlich Bachman,” says Jimmy O. Yang, who plays Jian-Yang on “Silicon Valley.”
“But it kind of turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It permitted my character to take over Erlich’s old role.”
The half-hour comedy, which returns to HBO (Sunday at 10 p.m.), follows the trials and tribulations of Pied Piper, a tech startup in Silicon Valley. In its first four seasons, Erlich served on its board of directors and presided over an innovation incubator in his home. As a member of the incubator, Jian Yang was his tenant. Tensions between the two escalated with each ensuing season.
“TJ’s character is such an a–hole to Jian-Yang that it works when Jian-Yang becomes an a–hole,” Yang says. “It’s like the bully victim stepping up.”
Erlich was written off the show (he’s supposedly in Tibet, indefinitely). Unlike Kevin Spacey’s departure from “House of Cards,” however, Miller’s “Silicon Valley” departure was due to his use of drugs and alcohol, which interfered with his work, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The show doesn’t try to avoid mentioning Erlich. In Season 5, Jian-Yang attempts to prove that Erlich is dead in order to obtain his assets.
Since Yang is no longer antagonizing Erlich, “now I become an a–hole to a lot of other people,” says Yang. “[Jian-Yang] becomes somewhat of a bad guy. I’m glad he’s transformed to more than just a programmer. He’s got a lot of personality and he’s quietly one of the worst guys.”
Yang previously had single-episode stints in shows like “New Girl” and “2 Broke Girls,” but “Silicon Valley” has been his big break. That’s why he says he was sad to hear that Miller was leaving.
“I learned so much from him. Improvised acting, and stuff like that,” he says.
But acting isn’t Yang’s only gig. He also has a new book, “How To American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents,” a memoir chronicling his experience immigrating from China to California at age 13 and his struggles to make it in Hollywood. “Silicon Valley” creator Mike Judge wrote the book’s foreword.
“The book is about my immigrant journey, being an outsider coming to America, assimilating and also coming from a traditional Chinese family that doesn’t believe in the arts and becoming an actor,” he says.
“One of the hard things coming from an immigrant family — or any family that doesn’t believe in the arts — is that you have to disappoint your parents. That’s hard for people to do if you’re a good kid.
“But I always said it was easier to disappoint my parents for a few years than to disappoint myself for the rest of my life.”