But the co-creator, who has been nominated for Emmys for both producing and directing the HBO comedy in each of its first four seasons, is looking forward to the future of the show. Especially one that includes more Jian Yang.
“I mean, we’re definitely coming back hard with Jian Yang,” Judge says of the character, played by comedian Jimmy O. Yang, who is set to pick up the most extra screen time in Erlich Bachmann’s absence in season five. That is welcome news for anyone who has been enjoying the “Not Hotdog” app that show actually developed and released IRL this past spring.
In addition to writing what will likely be the penultimate season of Silicon Valley this fall, Judge is also making his long-awaited return to animation with Tales from the Tour Bus on Cinemax. He describes the new project as a “mini-documentary series” about the “golden era of country music.” It’s Ken Burns’ Jazz series for PBS but instead of slow zooms of old-timey photos, Judge’s show will feature animated reenactment of the craziest road stories from the the 1960s and ’70s.
And then there are those rumors about a possible return of his beloved animated series King of the Hill, which ran for 13 seasons on Fox. If it does happen, Judge says he would probably have to reveal whether or not Hank Hill voted for Donald Trump.
Judge recently spoke to The Daily Beast by phone from his office in Los Angeles where he was still trying to figure out whether or not he should be personally worried about the massive HBO hack. Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
This past season of Silicon Valley felt even more ambitious than previous ones. Do you feel satisfied with the way things turned out both creatively and for the main characters on the show?
Yeah, I really liked this season a lot. I think what we set out to do, especially in the first season, sort of the promise of it was, how is Richard going to handle the success? Is he going to stay pure and innocent or is he going to become like Gavin Belson. Is he going to have to shake hands with the devil? We sort of danced around that a little bit, but this was the season where we had a little bit of that Breaking Bad thing going on towards the end of it.
You’re nominated for an Emmy for directing the season finale. What were some of the unique challenges when it came to that one? Because that was a big episode.
It really was a big episode. It had a lot of locations, a lot of big scenes. Sometimes, you know, big crowds, big scenes can be challenging. But a lot of times it’s just sort of smaller stuff. The scene where they pull up to Stanford and he’s in a rush to load all that stuff into the cluster there. We had to coordinate everything so they didn’t see the back of it, so the audience doesn’t see it coming, hopefully. And also picking all the angles such that the story works and how much debris there is back there. That was a lot of thinking on your toes, and you have limited time at these locations. The first live-action I did was the movie Office Space and the traffic jam scene, we had like 200 extras in their cars, trying to coordinate it all. That was kind of a baptism by fire for me and this sort of reminded me of that a little bit.
I feel like Thomas Middleditch doesn’t get the credit he deserves, maybe because people people think he’s similar to Richard Hendricks. From your perspective, how different is he from his character in real life?
Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t know that about Thomas. It’s almost like if you had taken somebody like Robin Williams and had his first role to be an introverted nerd and you didn’t know all the other stuff he could do. I mean, he does it so well. I think Thomas just transforms into this character and plays it so well, but it’s not at all who he is. He’s a bit of a nerd, I suppose, but he’s more of an extrovert, can do 100 imitations. He does kind of remind me of a Robin Williams type. I don’t know, I really thought he would get [an Emmy] nomination, especially since he did last year. I thought what he did [this past season], I was just continually blown away. I wasn’t sure how he would play a lot of this stuff when it was on the page and he just went beyond anything we expected. It was really fun to watch.
So, T.J. Miller. What happened there?
[Laughs] There’s probably not a whole lot of good to come out of me saying more than I’ve already said. But basically, it kind of became clear that he wasn’t into doing the show anymore and maybe wasn’t going to do the show anymore. So we wanted to write it in a way where he would have the option to leave or come back. And that’s what we did. Ultimately, he decided not to do it, so that was that. That’s about all I really could say. You’d have to ask T.J., I guess.
Well, he’s spoken a lot about it, too.
Yeah, he’s had some things to say about it. [Laughs] But yeah, we’re on good terms.
He called you “brilliant” in that now infamous Hollywood Reporter interview, but had some not so nice things to say about [executive producer] Alec Berg. Was their relationship the heart of the problem?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t know what that’s about, I really don’t. Alec’s an incredible writer and actually wrote particularly for that character. He’s really well suited for writing Erlich, so I really don’t know what that’s about.
Does this mean that Jian Yang’s character will take on a larger role in the absence of Erlich Bachmann next season?
I mean, we’re definitely coming back hard with Jian Yang. We’re going to have a lot of Jian Yang this season, I think. He’s become one of my favorites, especially this last season, to write for. I love working with Jimmy [O. Yang]. He went to the same university I did [UC San Diego] and was actually there when I gave a commencement speech, when he graduated, which I had no idea about when I cast him. But yeah, I think he’s really kind of blowing up, which has been really fun. Last summer at Comic-Con somebody asked if there would be more Jian Yang and it got this huge applause. That was nice.
Next season will be Silicon Valley’s fifth and you’ve said season six could be its last. Does that mean you’re starting to see the end point in sight as you write this next batch of episodes?
You never know, but we did decide this last season we didn’t want them to pivot anymore. Whatever they pivoted to should be the last thing that we’d carry to the end of the series. That’s the way we’re thinking. I mean, a new idea could come up, but we felt like that was our plan and we were looking at it that way. This peer-to-peer decentralized internet idea is a big one. It’s something that people talk about in the real world so we chose that as something that could have a lot of steps to it. So that’s how we’re thinking, but you never know, and the writing process could take you somewhere else. And it’s also ultimately up to HBO.
The recent HBO hack feels like something that could be a funny Silicon Valley plotline, but I’m guessing it’s not as funny to you considering the hackers may have information about things that you’ve been working on. What did you think when you heard the news about all that?
It was disturbing. I would be OK with just passing around hard drives and not posting any of this stuff. I’m always a little surprised, especially with a show like Game of Thrones, that it would be made available where anyone with a password could get on. But yeah, that’s the biggest show in the world and to be that vulnerable, I think hopefully we’ll all learn a lesson from it. We were actually writing our story about hacking when the Sony hack happened. It was weird. There’s been so many moments like that on the show. But we were on the [Sony] lot. You know I get in in the morning and my assistant tells me the internet’s out, and I go, well, that sucks. And then it’s out all day long. And then there’s helicopters over the Sony lot. And then it’s national news. It goes from the internet’s out to a worldwide news story while we’re writing a story about hacking and shooting on the Sony lot.
Does it make you want to get even more self-referential with it, in terms of commenting on what’s happening at HBO?
That would be a little tricky, because that could look like we’ve just completely disappeared up our own asses, if we start having characters talk about the HBO hack. But it is a crazy world out there. I think it’s probably best not to talk about it too much publicly or let anyone know what we’re doing about it.
Shifting gears a bit, I know you talked a bit about how Idiocracy seems to have predicted Donald Trump before he was elected president. Now that he’s been in office for a little more than 200 days, are things better or worse than you imagined?
I was trying not to imagine it too much. But I don’t know, it varies from day to day. Sometimes I think it’s going to be OK and sometimes I don’t. I think the media loves to create hysteria over anything. And I wish people would calm down a little more. But the problem is, you have a president who just loves to tweet crazy stuff. So one feeds the other and hysteria erupts all the time. I wish that wasn’t the case.
Are there things that you’ve seen Trump do or say where you think, we didn’t even think to go that far in Idiocracy?
Boy, I mean, in a way Idiocracy kind of looks optimistic right now. Five hundred years in the future. At least Camacho almost seems like a more pleasant person sometimes. I mean, the fact is, he is the president. I want good things for the country. I don’t want to be the one that predicted something horrible that then happens. So, yeah, I don’t know what to say, really.
Yeah, your work somehow seems to parallel a lot of this stuff. What do you think about the memes that compare Beavis and Butthead to Eric and Donald Trump Jr.?
Well, I think both sons look like Butthead, actually, so it doesn’t quite work. They look like two Buttheads. But then again, so do a lot of my friends, and me when I was 14. But yeah, one of them really looks like Butthead.
Fox CEO Dana Walden said this past week that she’s had some “preliminary conversations” with you about bringing back King of the Hill. What were those conversations like and what do you think are the chances that could happen?
That’s all they were, were conversations. Basically, it was just talking about if we brought it back, it would have to be something that felt new, not just episode 270 or something. But that’s really all it was. Those kinds of conversations aren’t uncommon, it’s just because she mentioned it that it kind of blew up, at least on my Twitter feed.
People seemed pretty excited about it?
Yeah, it seems like there’s a lot of enthusiasm and people wanting us to do it. But I mean, we’re talking about it, but nothing concrete really yet, just some conversations.
If you did bring the show back, how do you think it would be different, especially in the Trump era?
I don’t know. When Bush got elected and then after 9/11, a lot of people thought, is this going to change King of the Hill? I was in the air when 9/11 happened. I was in a plane flying from Austin to L.A. And we landed in El Paso. I was freaked out and I got a rental car and a bunch of water and I was going to start driving back to Austin. I stopped in a little Mexican restaurant and everyone was kind of looking at the TV like, yeah, whatever, that’s up in New York. I think King of the Hill, they’re in a small town—what was good about it was it wasn’t a bunch of people trying to be political. It’s a bunch of people trying to deal with their daily lives. Both parties are talking about paying attention to these people that nobody pays attention to. And I think that’s what we did on King of the Hill. We looked at those lives that Hollywood tends to ignore. So I don’t how much it would change. I don’t see it suddenly being a really overtly political show, because it never really was. It was more about just taking a look at these unhip, hard-working, regular people that everybody ignores.
Do you think those characters voted for Trump?
I don’t think Hank would have. Actually, maybe—I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It’s a tough one, I have to think about that. We probably would have done an episode about [the election], because that was a big one. If we do more, I guess we’ll have to answer that question, but I don’t see Hank being a fan of him as a person, even though he had voted Republican in the past.