One of the more shocking nominations in the 2013 Emmys race has to be Girls star Adam Driver. The monotone-heavy actor stands alongside comedy greats like Bill Hader (SNL) and Tony Hale (Veep) as well as the unbeatable Modern Family mafia (Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson). He's not only the youngest actor in the bunch, he's the most untested, having starred in just two short seasons as Girls' confounding mustachioed knight to Hannah Horvath's (Lena Dunham) mewling damsel in distress.
While it's encouraging to see the Emmys recognizing the talent and value of HBO's Brooklyn tale, is Driver really as good as the other actors in this category — especially when he's facing Hader, who just wrapped his final season on SNL? He is. And we've got the footage to prove it.
Throughout the second season of Girls, Driver was on the periphery of Hannah's ongoing struggle with herself. After she got him arrested when her infantile understanding of Adam drove her to assume he was "murder-y in a murderer way" instead of a deeply emotional, highly dysfunctional wreck who'd tied his ship hopelessly to her indifferent anchor, Adam embarked on an independent story line that developed his character and led him back, inevitably, to his ball and chain and her Ron Weasley haircut.
While the journey wasn't always funny or light-hearted, sometimes dipping down into the mucky depths of potentially predatory sexual behavior, it was always complex and it demanded a great deal from Driver. He gave us a complete human with the wrappings of an unaffected asshole, challenging our notions of how a person's outward behavior reflects their inner being. And he did so flawlessly.
But of course, you probably want some proof.
Exhibit A: Comedy With a Dose of Soul-Crushing Sadness
Upon first viewing this scene, reactions are likely pretty steadily in line with Eli's (Andrew Rannells) disgusted and judgmental scowl. And of course they are. Our immediate reaction to anything this intensely emotional is to retreat. Feelings are terrifying, especially when they're as intense as Adam's and it's simply easier to pretend they're some sort of gag — or even a pithy anecdote for Hannah's book that she's never going to finish. But when you watch it again, especially the first moments before Hannah and Eli break our connection with Adam, the superficial layer of comedy is underlined by Driver's deep emotional connection to the words his character is singing.
Exhibit B: Timing is Everything
While his merit is based greatly upon his ability to straddle both comedy and severe inner demons, Driver is nominated in the comedy category. Let's give the guy some props for his comedic timing, something we can see rather clearly in his final zinger in this scene with Ray (Alex Karpovsky).
Exhibit C: Emotional Depravity Is Not For the Weak (Actors)
This scene (which we could only find as a clip on a web show, so pardon the quality) was the sex scene that sparked a million complicated conversations. After a chance encounter with Hannah, Adam turns to the drink (he's in AA, remember) and exerts his frustration through a non-consensual, degrading sexual game with his reserved girlfriend Natalia. Regardless of your opinions on whether or not Dunham and the other writers should have pushed the character this far just before turning him into Hannah's Rom-Com-grade hero in the Season 2 finale, we must concede that as an actor wading through a gruesome and spirit-crushing scene, Driver succeeds absolutely.
Exhibit D: The Not-So-Blank Blank Stare
Adam's signature blank stare isn't the white, untouched canvas it appears to be. Behind his seemingly glassy eyes lies a deep well of emotion, visible like some sunken object beneath the choppy surface of a swimming pool. When he yells at Hannah, professing his inability to exist without her, our gut reaction is to follow Hannah and dismiss it as a distraction from her busy night of hosting a party. But there's more to it and if we read it right, we see Hannah for the myopic person she is, dismissing someone who's experiencing such pain over her inability to love and appreciate him. (Of course, this doesn't mean Adam isn't without significant flaws — this character is a whole person, after all.) Driver's ability to tread that line the way his complicated character demands is worthy of an award, even if it's not necessarily the height of comedy (which is of course, the category in which this talented actor finds himself).