HBO’s Silicon Valley has been praised for its verisimilitude, satirizing tech culture and its stunted bro kings with stunning accuracy. But between the show’s majority male cast and recent accusations of complicity in unprofessional behavior, it seems like the HBO series may have actually replicated the toxic environment it set out to mock.
On Tuesday Alice Wetterlund, who played engineer Carla Walton in Season 2, used Twitter to point out this uncomfortable phenomenon. A New York Times recap of her introductory episode hypothesized that Walton was a direct response to accusations that the show rarely showcased powerful female characters: “The main plot (this episode was titled, simply, ‘The Lady’) takes a look at the lack of women in tech, though the effort felt so pointedly cautious you wondered if producers were deliberately straining to say nothing about the issue.”
When pressed on the series’ gender breakdown, its creators often fall back on the accuracy argument, claiming that they’re doing their best to replicate a majority white, male world. Creator Mike Judge told the Hollywood Reporter in March that, “I don't think you do any service by pretending [Silicon Valley] is half female or half black.” He continued, “And not to pin bouquets on ourselves here, but I think we brought some attention to the gender imbalance by doing this show.”
But Wetterlund has described her experience parodying the tech gender imbalance as “toxic and weird” and “kind of a nightmare.” Wetterlund’s comments on Twitter are in response to former Silicon Valley star T.J. Miller’s continued success in the comedy world, even in the wake of sexual assault and harassment allegations against him.
In December 2017, the Daily Beast reported an anonymous woman’s claims that Miller physically and sexually assaulted her. The woman, who was referred to as Sarah in the piece, said that she and Miller began seeing each other in the fall of 2001, when he was attending George Washington University. She relayed an incident a few months into their relationship: “Sarah said she has a distinct memory that as they were ‘fooling around’ at her place, Miller began ‘shaking me violently’ and punched her in the mouth during sex. Sarah said that she woke up the following morning with a fractured tooth and a bloodied lip. When she asked Miller about it that morning, he claimed, according to Sarah, that she had simply fallen down drunkenly the past evening.”
A few days later, the pair were engaging in consensual sex when Sarah says that Miller again turned violent. “We started to fool around, and very early in that, he put his hands around my throat and closed them, and I couldn’t breathe,” she recalled. “I was genuinely terrified and completely surprised.”
“He pulled me back to bed and more things happened,” Sarah continued. “He anally penetrated me without my consent, which I actually believe at that point I cried out, like, ‘No,’ and he didn’t continue to do that—but he also had a [beer] bottle with him the entire time. He used the bottle at one point to penetrate me without my consent.”
In a statement, Miller and his wife Kate told the Daily Beast, “We met this woman over a decade ago while studying together in college, she attempted to break us up back then by plotting for over a year before making contradictory claims and accusations.” The lengthy statement continued, “Sadly she is now using the current climate to bandwagon and launch these false accusations again. It is unfortunate that she is choosing this route as it undermines the important movement to make women feel safe coming forward about legitimate claims against real known predators.”
On the same day the Daily Beast report published, adult film actress Dana DeArmond accused Miller and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts of sexually harassing her on the set of Comedy Central’s Mash Up, tweeting, “I’ve been saying Tj was an asshole for years.”
Miller also allegedly sent a vile transphobic email to a film critic and was arrested and charged in April for calling in a false bomb threat against a female Amtrak passenger. According to Vulture, “The complaint against Miller alleges that he called in the fake bomb threat and accused the woman because of a ‘grudge’ and that he continued to relay false information to them while the safety response was still ongoing.”
Recently, Miller has appeared in Deadpool 2, and has continued to tour and appear on comedy shows and podcasts. On Tuesday, Wetterlund tweeted, “Yes! It is definitely time to rehabilitate TJ Miller’s career! We can’t afford to lose talent at a time like this, we need more—not less—comedic hijinks such as *checks notes* calling in a fake bomb threat.” When a follower expressed confusion over the tweet and admiration for Wetterlund’s character, the comedian responded, “Thank you! I hope to not ruin it for you, but TJ Miller was a bully and petulant brat and pretty much everyone who had any power on that (almost all male) set, including the male cast members, enabled him and were complicit in his unprofessionalism. They can fuck off forever.”
“I’m pretty open about this, and I don’t know if other women on the show had a different experience than me, but it was kind of a nightmare,” she continued. When a troll-ish user pushed back, asking “if it was so awful, why did you stay?” Wetterlund replied, “One, I needed the job, two, it was my first recurring role and I had no idea it wasn’t always toxic and weird. Now I know!” Undeterred, that same user insisted that the cast shouldn’t be critiqued because “NOBODY was speaking up about anything in 2015.”
“How do you know I didn’t speak up?” Wetterlund asked. “Just because you didn’t hear about it? I didn’t realize HBO HR is supposed to contact you.”
HBO responded to Wetterling’s claims in a statement released to The Hollywood Reporter: “While this is the first time we have heard Alice Wetterlund comment on her experiences on Silicon Valley, we are disappointed to learn of her concerns. HBO and the producers have always taken very seriously our responsibility to create a welcoming and congenial environment for everyone who works on the show.”
In May 2017, HBO announced that the producers of Silicon Valley and T.J. Miller had “mutually agreed that T.J. will not return for season 5.” The statement continued, “T.J. has brought to life an unforgettable character, and while his presence on the show will be missed, we appreciate his contribution and look forward to future collaborations.” A month later, Miller aggressively shit-talked producer Alec Berg and passive aggressively shit-talked co-star Thomas Middleditch in an interview. A subsequent Hollywood Reporter piece shed more light on Miller’s “messy exit.”
“Table reads would start late as the cast and crew waited on the untamable actor, and when he did arrive he typically hadn't cracked open the script. Schedules would regularly have to be rejiggered, and sources from the set recount tales of Miller falling asleep between takes, leaving cast and crew to nudge him awake. And though everybody involved with the series praises his raw talent — some even employing the word ‘genius’ to describe him — many say it had become impossible to predict which Miller would show up on a given day. ‘There was almost a danger to having him around,’ says one insider. ‘He was explosive, and there were moments where you'd go, ‘Whoa, that's not where I thought that was going at all, but that was fucking awesome’… but it was a trade-off.’ In the end, all parties involved decided it was best if he moved on.”
Still, Judge and his team offered Miller a three-episode sendoff on Season 5, which Miller ultimately rejected. Wetterlund’s former co-stars and colleagues have yet to join her in a larger conversation about Miller’s post-#MeToo success and Silicon Valley’s alleged complicity.