For some people, the name “Adam Brody” will forever evoke visions of Seth Cohen, the nerd hero of the ’00s Fox teen drama The O.C. To a generation of teens, Seth Cohen was it: he made Chrismukkah and indie rock like Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes mainstream — in fact, the long slog from “college rock” to bands like Modest Mouse playing big venues likely owes a lot to this character — and he won the heart of his dream-girl crush who looks hella good in a Wonder Woman costume, Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson).
Personally, I’ve always been a Dave Rygalski girl, which was how I first saw Adam Brody. Dave was the love interest of Rory Gilmore’s music-besotted best friend Lane on Gilmore Girls, and he was basically Seth Cohen 1.0: a totally recognizable archetype of the type of boy you’d fall in love with at the record store. He was dorky-cute, which is to say, handsome but too skinny, played in a band, and was game enough to date Lane that he would endure the elaborate lies and games she had to come up with in order to get the approval of her conservative mother.
Watch Brody in this scene. He can handle an Amy Sherman-Palladino monologue with ease, the sort of torrent of words that would make a lesser actor quake in his boots. Girls were and should’ve been swooning over this one:
I just want you to know that I’m a good person. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I’ve never gotten a ticket. I’m healthy. I take care of myself. I floss. I never watch more than 30 minutes of television a night partly because I think it’s a waste of time and partly because there’s nothing on. I respect my parents. I do well in school. I never play video games in case they do someday prove that playing them can turn you into a serial killer. I don’t drink coffee. I hate soda because the carbonation freaks me out. I’m happy to give up meat if you feel strongly about it. I don’t mind wearing a tie. I enjoy playing those hymns on my guitar, and I really, really want to take your daughter to the prom.
That kind of spark grew into a full-on fire in The O.C., where Seth Cohen, the dorky avatar of the show’s creator, was the show’s breakout, fast-talking star. We were all kind of obsessed with The O.C. for awhile, and it seemed like Brody would be able to pivot from that show to a performance that would cement his stardom. He had potential in both film and TV — after all, he was handsome, he was manly, and he could tell a joke. Not all American male actors have that package.
But it didn’t quite happen that way. After the show ended in 2007, and Brody was officially a teen idol, he was supposed to be in a Justice League movie as The Flash, but that didn’t pan out. He was supposedly offered the lead in Pushing Daises, but said no. The lead role he did take, in the film In the Land of Women with Meg Ryan and Kristen Stewart, was a dud on arrival. Brody was supposed to produce a remake of Revenge of the Nerds that never happened. He did have a ten-minute role in the 2009 cult film Jennifer’s Body, where he played some brilliant Pete Wentz/Brandon Flowers emo indie guy riff and hit every punchline with dry panache, but that film was a bust, too.
Perhaps Brody’s career stalled after The O.C. due to poor timing; the 2008 writer’s strike killed films and television shows right and left. Perhaps he didn’t find the right role for his dry, funny delivery, or he made a mistake trying to jump into movies at the moment when TV started to matter. But in the past five years, Brody has mostly been a small, pleasant presence in indie films doomed for Netflix (The Romantics), the one white guy in black ensemble romantic comedies (Think Like a Man Too, Baggage Claim), and the occasional TV guest star (The League, where handsome Brody is a character with AIDS that everyone envies). His fast-talking presence works well with auteur types, as it’s certainly a good fit in Whit Stillman’s work, even if 2012’s Damsels in Distress and Stillman’s current Amazon Prime pilot, The Cosmopolitans, can’t hold a candle to the likes of Metropolitan.
Maybe his particular ability to play a slightly dorky guy who can tell a joke just doesn’t make him leading man material these days, although I find that to be a total mystery. The films that needed his presence don’t exist anymore, and these days, TV’s jokey dorks are mostly UCB-trained. Ginsberg from Mad Men, meanwhile, is around to fill the cute, Jewish slot (NBC’s romantic comedy A to Z could’ve easily starred Brody). Maybe Brody is a sarcastic jerk IRL — he’s certainly a wiseass interview — although that never stopped a male actor from succeeding before.
It’s been frustrating watching a guy with a boatload of charisma and genuine handsomeness fail to find the right vehicle, but Brody’s screwball charm is a bit out of time. It’s the type of thing that could work well opposite an Elizabeth Banks (I mean, imagine those two doing some sort of Nick-and-Nora thing). Alternately, he could fit well in the fast-talking world of an Aaron Sorkin show.
Either way, I find that I’m pleasantly surprised whenever I do see Adam Brody starring in a movie or a TV show. He has a presence — it’s not a great actor, Laurence Olivier presence, per se, but it’s a charismatic, charming, and likable one. He’s a handsome guy who can tell a joke and get the girl, and I think he could fill a missing slot out there. I just wonder whether Hollywood will ever figure it out. Because there’s a whole generation of girls who are ready for a Seth Cohen comeback.