Robert Redford has always bothered me. It’s nothing about him, personally. He’s a beloved Hollywood icon who has done nothing but star in classic movies across many genres and support noble causes and be generally regarded as a good and nice man. It’s the hair, mostly. It’s that he’s all of those other things and has possessed a head of boy-band-quality blond hair for like six decades now. It’s too much. I could handle one or the other. I could deal with him being a multi-talented film legend and going bald in his advancing age. I could handle him being the world’s greatest commercial pitchman for hair conditioner but struggling to cross over into box office glory. Add it all up, though, and it’s just gratuitous. It’s upsetting, is what it is. Robert Redford is entirely too powerful.
I have a similar problem with successful people who are also good at golf. It’s not jealousy, really, or at least it’s not just jealousy. Golf is impossible. People should not be good at something and then good at golf, too. Becoming good at it should cost you everything else in your life, just due to the commitment of time and mental resources. I get almost suspicious of people like this, like they’re up to something, like maybe that they’ve made some deal with a devious magical trickster they met at a carnival. I mean, mastering one thing in life is hard enough. It takes dedication and work and natural talent. Doing this in more than one area seems impossible to me, a person who is, at best, half-good at a few things, and recently looked in a mirror and decided, “Well, I guess I’m a buzz cut guy from now on.” I don’t know why I’m fixated on the hair thing. It’s probably nothing I should talk to a therapist about.
But this is something that started to worry me as I watched the new action movie Nobody, in which Bob Odenkirk goes on a John Wick-like journey from “living a quiet life as a family man after getting out of the violence business” to “maniac who almost single-handedly takes down the mob.” Bob Odenkirk is so good in Nobody. Almost… too good. Like, the guy just up and became a believable action star in his late 50s. After everything else he’s done in his career! And so, I’ve spent the week or so since I watched the movie pondering this question, which I will now lay out as a Case For and Case Against, in part to settle the issue in my brain and in part to justify the time I’ve spent thinking about it by turning it into a work thing: Is Bob Odenkirk, sketch comedy legend, dramatic television lead, and now Keanu-style action star, becoming simply too powerful?
CASE FOR: Bob Odenkirk is becoming too powerful
Bob Odenkirk has been acquiring power in plain sight, right in front of our faces, for decades. It started on Saturday Night Live way back in the 1990s. Odenkirk was a writer for the show and created, among other things, the Matt Foley, Inspirational Speaker sketches with Chris Farley. Even if he did nothing else in his life, that would have been enough, because those sketches are perfect. And if you’re bouncing this around in your brain and thinking, “Yeah, but Chris Farley was a master of physical comedy so take it with a grain of salt,” like that minimizes Odenkirk’s work as a comedy writer, then this is where you have to try to explain away Mr. Show, too.
Mr. Show was so good. Mr. Show still is good, actually, which is almost a magic trick for a sketch comedy show created in the early 1990s. Go watch a bunch of the sketches again now. Start with the one above, which is stupid to the point of brilliance, thanks in large part to Odenkirk giving it the full Slimy Used Car Salesman flare. Same with sketches like “24 Is The Highest Number,” or the fact that Mr. Show gave Tenacious D its big break, or any number of the memorable takeaways from the show’s short run. Even a sketch like “The Audition,” which was written by Dino Stamatopolous and stars Odenkirk’s co-creator David Cross, falls under the umbrella of “Bob Odenkirk rules” because he’s right there in the sketch playing the straight man.
And if he just stopped here, if all he had was an imprint on sketch comedy as a writer and a performer, again, that would have been enough. That’s basically what Dana Carvey brings to the table, give or take a Garth and a handful of excellent impressions, and Dana Carvey is a king. (You can make an argument that Mr. Show and The Dana Carvey Show are two of the most influential sketch comedy shows in history. Maybe one day I will.) But then Bob Odenkirk popped up as Saul Goodman about halfway into the run of Breaking Bad.
This was not entirely unreasonable. Saul Goodman was the comic relief in an otherwise bleak show — brilliant, but bleak — about a man who spirals from suburban chemistry teacher into international drug lord and ruins the lives of everyone he meets along the way. There is a reasonable amount of precedent here. Comedic actors slide into dramatic or semi-dramatic roles pretty frequently. Hell, Adam Sandler shows up in a legitimately good drama every few years and it still catches people off-guard every time. Where this all gets sticky is Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad spin-off starring his character. In which he acts. Dramatically. Well. Here, look.
Do you see the point I’m getting at here? Bob Odenkirk went from writing sketches about a man who falls through tables to carrying an award-winning drama based on one of the best television shows ever made. And now he’s starring in action movies. Good ones! Ones that feature scenes where he, RZA from Wu-Tang Clan, and freaking Christopher Lloyd himself hunker down inside an empty warehouse and fight off an entire crew of goons like Denzel Washington in the Home Depot at the end of The Equalizer. I enjoyed the movie very much, as “Bob Odenkirk, RZA from Wu-Tang Clan, and freaking Christopher Lloyd himself hunker down inside an empty warehouse and fight off an entire crew of goons like Denzel Washington in the Home Depot at the end of The Equalizer” could not possibly be more inside my wheelhouse. But it is concerning, if only because my enjoyment seemed to confirm something I had not realized was a problem beforehand: By mastering yet another genre, in addition to sketch comedy and television drama, Bob Odenkirk is simply becoming too powerful.
CASE AGAINST: Ah, shut up, who cares?
Bob Odenkirk is the best. I’m happy for him. It rules that he keeps trying and succeeding at new stuff. And who the hell wouldn’t take the chance to star in a John Wick-style movie with Christopher Lloyd and RZA? It’s not like his hair is that great, either. It’s nice, to be sure. It’s fine. But it’s not enough to tip the scales. Yes, I’ve been thinking about this last thing. A lot. Again, I’m sure it’s fine.
Unless we find out that Bob Odenkirk is secretly a scratch golfer, he has not yet become too powerful. Bob Odenkirk is still okay.