Comedic straight men are vastly underrated. Ask anyone who the funniest person on Arrested Development was, and they’ll say someone like Will Arnett or David Cross or Jessica Walter. But I’ll defy everybody and say that the MVP of that particular piece of television gold was Jason Bateman, who had to deal with a cadre of loonies while wearing a straight face and lobbing under-the-breath quips and deadpan one-liners that could steal the show from any chicken-dancing cast member. His was a subtly brilliant performance that provided a (mostly) levelheaded balance to the rest of the kinetic comedy going on around him, and he doesn’t get enough credit for it.
Bateman’s heir apparent to the Underappreciated Straight Man throne is Adam Scott. Scott’s been playing a wide variety of roles in both film and television since the nineties; he’s the kind of ubiquitous actor who, if you don’t know his name, certainly makes you think, “Hey, it’s that guy from that one thing.” Some people recognize him from his turn as Will Ferrell’s arrogant younger sibling in 2008’s Stepbrothers; others might know him from his stint on the critically-acclaimed-but-short-lived HBO drama Tell Me You Love Me. Of course now he’s best known for playing Ben Wyatt, Pawnee’s former assistant city manager, recovering Boy Mayor, and Leslie Knope’s go-to grope on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. Here, much like Bateman, Scott repeatedly finds himself playing it straight to eccentrics like Aziz Ansari’s aspiring entrepreneur Tom Haverford and Chris Pratt’s dimwitted Andy. His comedic timing and down-to-earth wryness have helped turn Parks & Rec into what is easily the funniest show currently on television.
But the series that put Adam Scott on my radar was another short-lived gem known as Party Down. This two-season Starz comedy ran from 2009 to 2010 and follows the exploits of a small catering company in Los Angeles comprised of Hollywood outcasts—aspiring actors, comedians, and writers on the rumpled fringe of success, most of whom are waiting despondently for their big break. Scott plays disillusioned Henry Pollard, whose brief moment in the spotlight as the star of a popular nationwide beer commercial made him a household face, but ruined his career. Now Henry finds himself stuck in the aimless limbo of early adulthood, unsure of what his next step will be and haunted by the career that never was, thanks in particular to the constant stream of people who order him to recite his famous line from the old beer spot, “Are we having FUN yet?” Each time Henry is forced to repeat the catchphrase, Adam Scott lets you see a little bit of his character’s soul dying. It’s another one of Scott’s hilarious straight-man performances in the middle of a great show that ended too soon. So if you’re a fan of Parks and Recreation (and if you’re not, you should be), check out Party Down, because every time Adam Scott says, “Are we having FUN yet?” you’ll say, “Yes, Adam. We are. Thanks to you.”
Now it’s time for you to let us know: Who are some of your favorite underrated comedic actors and actresses?