15 May 2014
It wasn’t until the day after Silicon Valley’s third episode did I even realize that the actor Christopher Evan Welch, who played borderline-autistic billionaire Peter Gregory, had died back in December. Episode five would be his final episode, my friend had told me, leaving my mouth agape to fill the pit in my stomach with pained air. I was struck with shock and an extreme sorrow by the news, more so than any other entertainer’s untimely death that I can recall, with the possible exception of Heath Ledger in the lead-up to The Dark Knight. Both men were relatively young, both men unable to behold the public’s awe at their respective performances.
I’m not in the game of power ranking actor deaths here, but there were some additional tragic details regarding Welch’s untimely demise. For one, before he died, he had yet to have that breakout role. For sure, even now, you can go back and examine his bits in a number of prestige films such as Lincoln and Synecdoche, New York and marvel at his ability to so subtly steal a scene. It’s a fascinating ability Welch held, something that Jesse David Fox does a fantastic job over at Vulture in showcasing these scenes while properly lauding the actor’s incredible skill. You should definitely head over and take a look when you can.
The tragedy that I wish to focus on is something admittedly more selfish. In my favorite comedy of the year, I had suddenly lost my favorite character and I was concerned with how successfully the show could persevere. Even though I respect creator Mike Judge’s “Show must go on” philosophy in the wake of Welch’s death, I remain unconvinced that it can go on at the same quality.
You see, even before I knew of Welch’s tragic fate, I was waiting on pins and needles for Peter Gregory’s next screen time. He was that phenomenal of a character. Despite only appearing in five episodes, Peter Gregory has already laid claim to a spot in the top echelon of Judge’s manifestations, right alongside Stephen Root’s timeless Milton Waddam of Office Space. Both characters displayed little to no social skills and yet had their own unique ways of outsmarting everyone around them. The absentminded method in which Peter Gregory pulls millions out of thin air just by musing upon Burger King while also driving his investees insane will probably go down as one of my favorite side stories in TV history.
The fourth episode arrived with me at last cognizant that I had been marveling at a dead man on the screen. Despite my dejected state as I took in my favorite new show, Peter Gregory once again appeared and hit me with the biggest gut punch laugh of the episode. While hosting a party complete with rapper Flo Rida, Peter Gregory makes his grandest entrance, riding upon a throne carriage to the stage and looking none so happy about any of it. He stands at the mic and acknowledges his musical guest without so much as looking at him. “Thank you, Florida,” He says before then detailing to the audience a shorter line at the bar in the back. His mic drop is a simple, “I’m done talking now.”
I was in stitches, nearly in tears. I had to play it back again to really absorb every bit of nuance in the performance. Gregory would return at the end of the episode to bring about the biggest laugh of that scene as well, simply with his interpretation of chuckling at Erlach’s joke, “Dropbox, more like dripbox”. He presents a noise very difficult to properly describe but distinctly a reception of humor.
Episode five was Gregory’s final appearance on the show, and unfortunately barely features him. It’s hard to know how much his illness – lung cancer diagnosed in 2010 is what got him – affected his multitude of appearances. Either way, I will always remember the character as that man in the fourth episode who rode up to a stage like a Caesar suffering through motion sickness.
This latest episode was predictably the weakest to date. Apart from the scene in which Erlach comes to Richard’s defense by slapping around a preteen and tossing his bmx in the bushes, there were few hilarious bits to be had. The void left by Welch’s absence made much of the episode feel like a slog, especially the moments involving Gregory’s company and his loyal assistant Monica. We’re shown a scene in which she takes a call from Gregory only to hear fits of coughing on the other end. Assumedly, this was beginning of the character’s own end.
Episode six was different, somewhat hollow. And no amount of visual effects for Jared’s farcical romp across the world in a self-driving car could fill the void. Even though Welch’s Gregory was an ancillary character, his sparse moments always shone brightest and it’s hard to imagine that if Welch were still alive, he wouldn’t have jumped several levels as a coveted character actor. He was that arresting in his performance.
There is still much to like with this show, and I believe time can heal the wounds of TV plotting just as well as people. The ensemble remains strong and the house that Aviato built will always provide laughs. But, they’ve lost someone irreplaceable in their cast, and I’m not sure how they’ll ever be able to supplement what Welch brought to his absurd titan of tech industry.