TV Review: Nathan for You

Nathan for You is ostensibly about a business school graduate (Nathan Fielder) who helps struggling businesses with inventive, “out-of-the-box” ideas. What it’s really about is Nathan creating weird and awkward scenarios with real people, often at the cost of Nathan’s dignity. Nathan for You is part scripted TV show, part documentary, and Nathan plays a more socially stunted version of himself. When it works (and it usually does), it is absolutely hilarious.

I’ll use one of my favorite episodes – “The Movement” – as an example of the show’s template. A moving company spends most of its budget on paying its employees, so Nathan’s plan is to create a fitness craze around moving household objects. The show’s producers find a fitness gem named Jack. Nathan stages a photoshoot to sell the idea that Jack’s physical transformation from overweight to extremely fit came about by simply moving objects around, and Nathan also hires a writer to create a fake memoir about Jack. Along the way Jack is invited on TV morning shows and he bullshits like a champion when questioned about his volunteer work with jungle children. It’s brilliant.

TV host: “Jungle child is what?”
Jack: “Jungle child are children that live in the jungle… A while ago I was working with a jungle child, his name was Dende, he was a great inspiration for me, and unfortunately, tragically he died when baboons kidnapped and ate him.”
TV host: *stares at camera with mouth agape*

The episode culminates with Nathan finding people who volunteer to move boxes for the moving company with the goal of getting fit. It’s a short-term solution to a larger problem, but Nathan pats himself on the back just the same.

One of my favorite parts of the show is its expanded cast of Craigslist characters, bounty hunters, security guards, celebrity impersonators, and other random, odd, and very real people who help provide much of the show’s humor. They blur the barrier between scripted TV and documentary, and Nathan actually bonds with some of them in surprising ways. The series finale is over an hour long, and it’s all about a Bill Gates impersonator searching for his long-lost love. That’s not what you’d expect from a Comedy Central show, but Nathan for You is not regular TV. It’s a circus, and laughing at the show’s participants is like laughing at ourselves in a fun house mirror. We all have a weird side to us; Nathan Fielder just hasn’t exposed it yet.

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