Nathan Fielder Is Here to Rescue Us All

Business-rescue TV shows get their much-deserved comuppance in Nathan Fielder's "Nathan for You" on Comedy Central, in which he finds awkward Rube Goldberg-like ways to help people

click to enlarge Nathan Fielder - PHOTO: Ian White
PHOTO: Ian White
Nathan Fielder

Two years had passed since Canadian comic Nathan Fielder last shared his entrepreneurial expertise by way of parodying business-rescue programs, which led to speculation that his show was cancelled or its host had moved on to a new project. After three seasons of a series brilliantly mocking expert-takeover shows, it would make sense if Fielder ran out of ideas or became too recognizable to get away with his infamous stunts. Luckily, none of that was the case.

Nathan For You (10 p.m. Thursdays, Comedy Central) is back and funnier than ever as Fielder presents ridiculous tactics to help struggling small businesses. While a show like Bar Rescue might rename an establishment or revamp its building with a new theme to attract customers, Nathan For You will go to lengths as great as hiring a celebrity impersonator to leave a giant tip at a diner to spark media attention.

The season kicked off with a recap/reunions special looking back at the show’s past participants. And while this is a satire, some of its success stories are not. Private investigator Brian Wolfe, who appeared in a few Nathan episodes, actually landed his own Investigation Discovery show, Cry Wolfe. “Ghost Realtor” Sue Stanford, whom Fielder rebranded in Season 2, still advertises her services as such and has even partnered with a psychic to ensure all home buyers that their new houses are spirit-free.

Fielder spent a majority of the special serving subtle jabs to the host, a real actor previously used in the first season when Fielder created a fake Bachelor-type show, The Hunk, to get over his fear of meeting women (often the problems he aims to solve are his own personal issues). This brand of uncomfortable humor is a hallmark of Nathan. In a world where even the most charismatic starlets claim to be socially awkward, Fielder ups the ante, extended eye contact and all.

Despite the length between seasons, this one picks right back up with the owner of a local diner looking to drive up sales. Instead of retooling the restaurant’s marketing or menu, Fielder hires a Michael “Kramer” Richards impersonator to patronize the diner and leave a giant tip, hopefully prompting some free publicity. But Fielder doesn’t stop there: He finds a willing participant who legally changes his name to Michael Richards in order to obtain a bank card for the impersonator to use (lest the celebrity tip appear inauthentic). And while the diner owner would have preferred a spot on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives  — “I don’t know how to get on that show,” Fielder says, blankly — he does enjoy some press coverage when the charade pans out.

Like a Rube Goldberg machine for rescuing businesses, Fielder orchestrates elaborate stunts to achieve basic results. His deadpan delivery allows for awkward, painful pauses that make you wonder how on earth he doesn’t break character.

Elsewhere, the owner of a massage parlor wants to encourage customers to splurge on its higher-priced offerings. Naturally, Fielder creates a fake nonprofit called City Warts, aimed at getting folks with contagious warts into the workforce. When customers realize the least expensive massage package is administered by a charity-sponsored wart person, they’re sure to opt for the next level up.

As ridiculous and hilarious as Nathan For You is, the show actually inspires these genuine human scenes. As two “Wart Angels” wait for massage customers that never come, one discusses his love for baking. “Is it the baking you like, or is it the look in the person’s eyes that you baked it for?” the other philosophically poses. “Both,” he emphatically responds. It’s at once humorous and heartwarming.

One could argue the participants in the show are overly naïve in not realizing Fielder’s ridiculous tactics for what they are — though by all accounts they’re for real and Fielder’s part is the only quasi-scripted role. But somehow this show devoted to utter mockery isn’t really mean-spirited at all. In fact, it’s typically Fielder at the butt of the joke, eager to skewer himself and a self-congratulatory genre of reality TV all at once.

 

CONTACT JAC KERN: @jackern

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