When a door closes, a window opens, and when one actor named Peter’s award nomination is rescinded, that makes way for another Peter to step in to replace him. The Peters in question are MacNicol and Scolari, and the award is this year’s Emmy for outstanding guest actor in a comedy role. After MacNicol’s role in Veep was deemed ineligible because he appeared in too many episodes to qualify as a guest actor, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences promised to give his nomination to the actor with the next-highest number of votes. That turned out to be Peter Scolari, who turned in a fine performance as Hannah Horvath’s father Tad on Season 5 of Girls. Good choice, academy, for recognizing Scolari’s understated, anxiety-inducing performance this season.
Scolari has been a part of Girls since the beginning, but the fifth season found his character trying to figure out life as a newly out-of-the-closet gay man, which is probably something Scolari never expected when he signed on to play a Midwestern dad type five years ago. (People involved with the show have said that the character’s development was not planned from the start and sort of happened on a whim.) In the second episode of Season 5, when arranging a meetup with a man gives him an anxiety attack, Tad leans on his daughter for help despite how ashamed he feels for needing help in the first place. In a plotline that came a bit out of left field, Scolari makes his character sympathetic and conflicted, not just a plot twist but an inconvenient and messy reality. Sitting in a restaurant with Hannah after leaving the man’s apartment, Tad tries to change the subject and asks how Hannah she’s doing. Scolari the actor goes back and forth between sweet, wants-the-best for you father figure and nervous-out-of-his-mind newly gay man, his face going from calm to wrinkled and panicked and back again several times, a marathon of new facial contortions. He’s dad! Now he’s a newly out gay guy who’s still married to a woman! Back to dad! It’s just as funny as it is sad.
In addition to showcasing Hannah’s rare moments of maturity in contrast to her faltering father, the storyline also provided opportunities for Scolari to play off other younger characters in the cast. With his newfound life transition, now he fit right into Girls’ landscape of twentysomething malaise, just another character trying to figure out who he is and what he wants. He has a scene with Elijah (Andrew Rannells) in the season finale where the two of them have a heart-to-heart on the couch. Elijah doesn’t understand his own recent romantic rejection or why Tad is trying to work it out with his wife, despite being gay. “I just feel like giving up. Don’t you?” Elijah asks, his head on Tad’s chest. Tad answers, “No, I feel like I’m just starting.” Scolari is so sensitive, so resolute in his response: You want it all to work out for him. Tad might not figure it all out in time for Season 6, but Scolari just might snag that Emmy.