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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Worth the Watch: Find the edges of reality with “Nathan For You”

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    Stills from a scene in episode one of season three of “Nathan for You,” which airs on Comedy Central. The third season of the zany reality TV show has seen host Nathan Fielder try to scam Best Buy out of high-definition TVs for a dollar.

    Times have changed, and so has reality TV. It has transformed from extrapolating interest from the mundaneness of everyday life to reverse engineering the most absurd, synthetic reality that TV producers deem believable.

    Modern reality TV is a circus clown showing up to a desk job with their best “act casual” facial expression on.

    This brings us to the genius of “Nathan for You,” a comedic quasi-reality prank show hosted by Nathan Fielder.

    The shtick of “Nathan for You” sounds simple enough: Fielder approaches businesses with absurd marketing gimmicks that push the boundaries of “so-crazy-it-just-might-work.”

    Fielder is an expert in what he calls “specialty marketing” after graduating from a university in Canada with “really good grades”—his words, not mine. His report card of mostly Bs and Cs contradicts this claim, as it’s shown in the title sequence.

    Via “specialty marketing,” Fielder presents his vision of reality TV to viewers: How insane of a circumstance can he fabricate before people refuse to play along and reject his reality?

    With the third season recently premiering on Comedy Central, “Nathan for You” has aired 19 episodes to date.

    Fielder’s “Resume of Ridiculousness” runs long. There was the time he pitched feces-flavored frozen yogurt and the time he acted as a guide for the brave souls who took him up on a rebate offer that required climbing a mountain. One memorable episode involved an obnoxious, outspoken private investigator seeking a five-star Yelp review from Fielder. The conditional review rests on whether the private detective is able to track down Fielder among a sea of hired look-alikes.

    Often the most entertaining episodes occur when Fielder’s initial plans go awry and spawn cover-up schemes. See: a fake film shot on location at a souvenir shop to promote sales, followed by a fake film festival to prove legitimacy of said fake film.

    Nathan Fielder is an idea man, a marketer who takes the strategy of shock and awe deadly serious.

    The third season continues the show’s trademark by refusing to shy from ridiculousness, awkwardness and ridiculously painful awkwardness. Fielder is a biological heat-seeking missile for all things uncomfortable.

    The opening episode of season three may just be the best episode of “Nathan for You” to date. Fielder approaches a local electronics store, Speers TV, with a plan to help the store attain a stock of high-definition televisions for only a dollar each. The plan: advertise $1 HDTVs at Speers, but create circumstances that make them impossible to sell. Fielder will then price match a Best Buy’s entire stock of these HDTVs in the hopes of buying them for $1 a piece.

    In theory, this just might work. In reality, not so much.

    Unsurprisingly, Best Buy refuses to price match the offer, but luckily Fielder’s store defenses—a strict black-tie dress code, a room constructed around the TVs with a miniature door and, finally, a live crocodile to guard the TVs—prevent customers from buying out Speers’ TVs.

    Whereas in past seasons the jig would eventually be up, here Fielder follows his idea to its conclusion. The ridiculousness spirals outward as Fielder comes up with crazier and crazier ideas to get what he wants.

    He decides to sue Best Buy for not price matching, but fears high-powered corporate lawyers will discover the scheme if they depose Speers TV owner Alan Harikian.

    To combat this, Fielder attempts to get Harikian deemed certifiably insane by a psychologist. All Harikian has to do is speak to a therapist and recount the insane lengths that he and Fielder have gone to with their scam. The oblivious psychologist believes Harikian to be genuinely delusional when he describes the measures he went to prevent customers from buying his TVs.

    By deeming these measures the delusions of a certifiably insane man, the psychologist, by extension, is also positing that all of Fielder’s plans are insane and unreal.

    This disconnect marks the fantastical allure of “Nathan for You.” Fielder creates a world that blurs the lines between reality and insanity, and we get to watch. Fielder presents a plan to business owners as an unspoken contract: If they agree to proceed with his plan, they take responsibility for its insanity. Fielder makes the fireworks commence, everyday reality is shattered and everyone else must pick up the pieces.

    Fielder is relentless when he upends the status quo. Silence is his saber, and he surgically de-pantses his targets.

    Master of the awkward silence, Fielder often simply repeats whatever ridiculousness is currently floating through the scene and then remains stonewall silent until the other person responds. They must reconcile Fielder’s awkwardness and absurdity, because Fielder himself will never do so.

    Watching a person react to Fielder, going from shock to incredulousness to acceptance, is a sight to behold.

    I have laughed harder at “Nathan For You” than at any show of the last few years. We live in a society that promotes crazy reality TV, but really, Fielder is the true master of the genre.

    “Nathan For You” goes to the very edge of what constitutes reality, and films real people as they struggle to reconcile with insanity. This is never done in a manner that is callous or harsh, but with a tone that points out we all live in a world that is already absurd.

    At the end of the day, we are all just doing our best with the hand we’ve been dealt, even if Nathan Fielder is the dealer.


    Follow Alex Furrier on Twitter.


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