Part of the brilliance of HBO’s sitcom “Silicon Valley” is that leans on real-life people and events to show the silliness inherent in the tech industry. Some of its gags are so nuanced, they’re easy to miss.
On the second episode of season four, the gang sits around the table eating pizza and tossing a ball. Eventually, Erlich, a character who owns the startup incubator where they live, moves the party outside and takes the pizza boxes with him.
Blink and you might have missed it, but the boxes were round and made of something other than cardboard. It’s the only tell-tale sign that this was no ordinary pizza. In fact, the pizza — made by pizza delivery startup Zume Pizza — was created by robots. The characters never mentioned the pizza, nor were they shown actually eating it.
Robots use artificial intelligence to accept orders and make highly customizable pizzas. The kitchen can turn out 288 pizzas an hour.
In an email to Business Insider, the team at Zume Pizza revealed what it was like making a cameo on the show set.
“I’ve loved Silicon Valley right from the offset — long before I ever moved to the area,” Zume Pizza’s executive chef Aaron Butkus said. “So when we were asked to have our pies as part of the show, I was thrilled.”
Producers at “Silicon Valley” reached out to the startup last October about using the pizza as a prop in the new season. The company sent 10 empty pizza boxes to the producers so they could check out the design.
In addition to looking unusual, the boxes are made from sustainably farmed sugarcane fiber, which is recyclable and compostable. The bottom of the container has sloped ridges and a recess in the center that force liquids to pool where they won’t touch pizza and make it soggy in transit (though you can’t make those details out on the show).
Within a few weeks, Butkus and his brother drove from the Bay Area to a studio in Culver City, California, for the shoot.
“The main challenge [was] that there would be no oven on site, and we wanted to ensure the pizza looked as if it was really delivered by Zume, not some substitute version,” a spokesperson for Zume Pizza says.
Butkus brought 14 partially baked pizzas to the set, along with a portable oven to reheat and style the pizzas properly. When the brothers were told they were shooting the scene around the table, they finished cooking the pizzas and handed them off to the props crew.
They made nine “Veggie Jackson” and five “Cheezy E” pies, that “turned out perfectly,” according to the spokesperson.
“While we weren’t able to go on set (to keep plot developments confidential), we saw the cast from a distance coming and going from their trailers and studio,” Butkus says.
After the episode was taped, Thomas Middleditch, who plays Richard on the show, met with Zume Pizza cofounder Alex Garden at the company’s office.