Once every couple of generations, a truly gifted actor brings their all to the role they were born to play, changing humanity’s understanding of the dramatic arts for decades to come. Booth had Hamlet, Meader had Kennedy, and now, thanks to Saturday Night Live, Adam Driver has Abraham H. Parnassus, the oil baron with a surprisingly honest approach to career day:
The role is a heady mixture of Charles Montgomery Burns, T. Herman Zweibel, and a pile of old-age makeup, and Driver inhabits it fully, walking right up to the edge of doing a Vincent Price voice without ever crossing the line. Although Pete Davidson and Aidy Bryant don’t have much to do besides play it straight, Driver gets a key assist from Melissa Villaseñor, as a student whose enthusiasm for Parnassus’ brutality inspires him to reach new rhetorical heights. And, thanks to the sketch’s writers, what heights he reaches! What actor doesn’t dream of delivering instantly-eternal lines like Parnassus’ tribute to his onetime rival H.R. Pickens?
I outlived you, H.R. Pickens! I crushed you into the ground, and now your bones turn to oil beneath my living feet! I married your granddaughter, filled her belly with my festering seed, and sired a boy! He is my final revenge, H.R!
Driver more than lives up to the challenge of those beautiful, inspiring words. Saturday Night Live owes its place in the Trump era to the on-the-nose political humor of its cold opens, but it’s the later, riskier sketches that actually come closest to addressing the current moment, because gazing directly into that much stupidity is blinding. Driver’s Abraham Parnassus is a more honest portrait of Donald Trump than anyone else on Saturday Night Live has managed, from Alec Baldwin to Donald Trump himself, and we hope it wins him all the Oscars. Grind their bones to dust, Abraham H. Parnassus! Crush them all!