Comedy Central docu-reality comedy series Nathan for You first aired in 2013 and its 4th season is currently in development. Series co-creator Nathan Fielder plays a satirised version of himself, visiting struggling businesses and offering to help them boost sales and customers via a series of preposterous and foolish strategies, all gleaned from the skills he acquired whilst attaining his business degree.
In the show, Nathan is often prone to jealousy and bitterness, born of his awkward and lonely existence and lack of social awareness. Given the “documentary” vibe, his little snipes and smug glances into the camera serve to ably craft a petty and damaged main man, and the fact that he’s interacting with ordinary, everyday citizens who aren’t “in on it” makes for some truly gut-busting laughs and overwhelmingly uncomfortable situations.
Some of his most famous and renowned “marketing gems” became viral internet sensations. He “helped” a toiling cafe by rebranding them to be named “Dumb Starbucks” – a coffee shop that literally steals every aspect of Starbucks’ established brand (which is allowed due to the fact it is a “satirical art project” and not a retail coffee chain). This endeavour saw queues around the block and made national headlines, with a multitude of news networks covering the story. The most incredible part to all of this is the fact that none of the networks picked up on the fact that it was an elaborate prank.
Another viral hit was the “hero pig” scenario Nathan manufactured to aid a failing zoo. The pig is filmed “saving” a “drowning” baby goat, and the footage spread like wildfire and has almost 10 million views on YouTube. My personal favourite is when he adds a “poo” flavoured ice-cream option onto the menu of an embattled ice-cream parlour, and the ridiculousness that ensues (they actually roll it out to be sold to real customers). The efforts and lengths he goes to in order to convince these owners and managers to take a chance with him and his unorthodox methods are superb, and require a very delicate balance of push and pull on Fielder’s behalf.
Throughout the series we meet a host of larger-than-life characters – some of who appear in several episodes (these are all real people he organically came across). There’s a Bill Gates impersonator who doesn’t know the first thing about home computers or Microsoft, a Private Eye (Brian Wolfe) who ticks every “PI” trope and stereotype with such overwhelming wonder that he was given his own TV show (Cry Wolfe – which has 3 seasons to its name and is considered one of the worst shows on the small screen right now), and James Bailey, a professional Santa Claus who has an extensive gun collection.
The show is utterly hilarious, awkward beyond any reasonable level of security, and also contains moments that are rather heartfelt and melancholy. The formula of the show takes an episode or two to get used to, but once you’ve unlocked “Nathan’s world and ways” you are in for a real treat.
Fielder’s subtleties and nuances are executed with such aptitude and perfection that, at times, you can forget that he’s satirising himself. He never breaks character or falters in his portrayal, and the show’s remains effectively on-point throughout as a result.
Nathan for You has received critical acclaim for its unique formula, hilarious satire of marketing and commercialism, and for Fielder’s riotously tragic portrayal of himself, but has largely slipped under the radar. As a massive fan, I can only assume that it is because it takes some investment of time and focus to garner its worth. But trust me, it’s worth it!
In Australia, the first 3 seasons of ‘Nathan for You’ are available in full on Stan.