After passages behind the scenes of Sacha Baron Cohen Who is America? and innovation How To With John WilsonNathan Fielder returned to our screens once again to Repetitiona six-part HBO series, which debuted July 15. On such an occasion, it’s once again worth considering the subversive brilliance of Fielder’s dummy comedy series. Nat for you, in which Fielder played a version of himself, intervening in the lives of real businesses with outrageous “solutions” and other unorthodox marketing strategies. It was, among many other things, a scathing critique of American consumerism cloaked in the format of a prank show. Or was it the other way around?
It suits that Nat for you found a home on Comedy Central. The staples of this network like South Park and The daily show are cultural strongholds that began in the 90s and still exist today. Shows like these succeed not just because they’re extremely funny, but because they have timeless premises that can be injected with an infinite number of variables. South Park could go pretty much any direction he wanted, and The daily showwhile having to come closer to a format than its cartoonish companion, was an open, unfiltered platform for any topic of liberal discourse.
Nathan is the not-so-secret ingredient in Nathan For You
Considering the Comedy Central charts, Nat for you could easily have run ten, 12 or 15 seasons without running out of ideas. The fact that it only lasted four seasons (Fielder himself decided that the show ends, rather than being canceled by the network) makes it a more valuable commodity, a rich but all-too-brief window into a virtuoso mind equal to that of Sacha Baron Cohen himself. The talent Fielder brings to projects like Who is America? and How… takes this work to a different level, but it still doesn’t quite compare to his screen presence.
Nathan Fielder’s character in Nat for you is built from the dry clumsiness of Napoleon Dynamite combined with the cold cunning of American psychothis is Patrick Bateman. He is quite innocent in his affect, but his persistence is disconcerting and his ideas are often disturbing. The show is indebted to the outrageous spectacle of something like Borat just as it bears the influence of the intimate, character-driven psychosis of a show like Calm your enthusiasm. It’s endlessly ingenious and increasingly difficult to watch.
The uncomfortably comedic character of Nathan Fielder
Nathan’s character is always well-meaning, but that’s part of what makes the viewing experience so gross. He comes under the guise of trying to help a business, but often ends up taking advantage of the people he’s trying to help – this is certainly all intentional on the part of Nathan the creator, but it’s possible that Nathan the character is unaware of how much it imposes on these people’s lives, and how it often complicates their struggles more than it simplifies them.
The balance between generous ingenuity and cruel character manipulation is part of what gives the program its edge which, along with the broad spectrum of goofy, unpolished, and genuine humanity spotlighted in the show, separates Nat for you more conventional prank comedy shows.
On the surface, it’s light, non-committal fun, but when you dig deeper, it gets downright uncomfortable. An attempt to help a car wash gain more customers ends with Nathan scamming the manager out of $200. Nathan’s solution to helping a struggling moving company is to exploit the free labor of innocent, unwitting individuals. On several occasions, he creates fake reality shows, usually for selfish purposes — the most egregious example being a dating show created to trick a former Best Buy employee into divulging confidential information. Sometimes, like with his epic “Dumb Starbucks” plan, the people he helps are left out altogether.
When it comes to television (reality, drama or otherwise), we love watching characters be good at their jobs. Nathan Fielder’s character has almost universally terrible ideas, but he executes them impeccably. Also, his confidence is unshakable, and when something goes wrong or a client expresses disagreement or dissatisfaction, Nathan simply moves on and refuses to acknowledge that his plan might be less than perfect. He’s no hero by any means, and he certainly does his fair share of damage to people’s lives and livelihoods, but we admire him because he doesn’t give up, even when he probably should. .