Adam Driver returns to host Saturday Night Live for a third time this weekend, and for the second straight season, he's promoting a film that landed him an Oscar nomination. Everything appears to be looking up for the actor, and SNL will surely give him another chance to shine.
But will he? Can he? How can Adam Driver possibly impress this weekend when he is standing in the cold, pitiless shadow of Abraham H. Parnassus?
You may remember Abraham from Driver's last appearance on the show, the Season 44 premiere, where, in a sketch written by Eli Coyote-Mandel, Driver played an old man called to speak in front of his son's high-school class. The son was played by Pete Davidson, and if you're wondering whether Pete spent the whole sketch mumbling his lines and breaking character at the slightest provocation, wonder no more, because he definitely was. No matter, though, because the second Driver walks through the door, bald-capped and liver-spotted, armed with a cane and the righteous fury of an impotent old oil baron who can no longer do anything more than terrorize his soft disappointment of a son.
It's hard to watch Driver bellow and rage and talk about suckling the Earth's mother's milk out of the ground and not think about Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Driver's over-the-top intensity both serves the character and also works as a parody of the kind of over-intense actor who tends to play that type of character. (Nothing against Daniel Day-Lewis, we love that over-intensity.)
The challenge of picking out Driver's very best moment in the sketch is a near-insurmountable one. Is it when he snaps at Aidy Bryant as the teacher, calling her "marm"? Is it his story about being incubated in a cast-iron pot in a pizza oven? Is it the line "My bones never hardened but my spirit did"? Whatever it is, we have to give a shout out Melissa Villaseñor as the over-enthusiastic student who really gets into Abraham's stories about crushing the spirit of H.R. Pickens.
It's a sketch whose pleasures won't soon dry up like the oil wells that once contributed to Abraham's fortune. It's probably the 3rd or 4th best acting moment of Adam Driver's entire career. If it were movie length, it would be enough to best Joaquin Phoenix for the Best Actor Oscar. So while it will be fun to watch Adam Driver attempt to live up to the standard that Abraham H. Parnassus set, he's just as likely to end up with his spirit crushed... like a bird under a cane.
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Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.