Hidden in Plain View: “Nathan for You”
After a winter hiatus, we are back! Hidden in Plain View is a bi-weekly column where I help you find great shows buried in the clutter that is modern television. With more than 400 original scripted series on TV in 2015 alone (and even more expected this year), it is simply a fact that you’re missing out on something great. Archive of previous columns here. This time: “Nathan for You.”
Nathan Fielder is at all times awkward, way too comfortable, socially inept, a mad genius and a sad loner. And on Comedy Central’s “Nathan for You,” he is giving a performance that is one of the funniest, most heartbreaking and most poignant on television.
A graduate of “one of Canada’s top business schools, with really good grades” (A-minus, B-plus, two B’s and a C-plus), Fielder is now using his knowledge “to help struggling small business owners make it in this competitive world.”
Fielder’s ideas for helping small businesses have involved devising a way for a liquor store to sell alcohol to minors, using parody law to help a struggling coffee shop increase its business, creating a bar where smoking is allowed, and providing a moving company free labor under the guise of a weight-loss program.
The ideas are usually clever, often humorous and consistently flawed in one extremely fatal way that prevents them from being useful in the real world for more than a short period of time. In one episode, Fielder approaches a small gas station with an idea to help draw customers away from the big, well-known companies. He tells the owner to sell his gas – at the height of gas prices in America a few years ago – for $1.75 per gallon…after rebate. Since the rebate is such a good deal, Fielder decides to put the rebate box at the top of a mountain an hour and a half away, convinced no rational person will travel that far for a 10-20 dollar rebate.
The beauty of “Nathan for You” is that this idea begins as a cruel joke being played on customers who were just searching for cheaper gas and winds up being a testament to the importance of companionship and enjoying the little things in life. As Fielder puts it, “We’ve all gained something even more valuable than a rebate. Friendship.”
But what really makes “Nathan for You” stick is Fielder’s awkward, lonely, smart and confident performance as “Nathan Fielder.” Fielder shows that there is a beauty in awkwardness, that there is something poignant in loneliness. It’s not just a show that is funny and often wildly uncomfortable. “Nathan for You” is a show that sheds light on the entire human race. It exemplifies the idealized American dream. It shows a lonely, smart man constantly working to make the world the best possible version of itself, to prove his worth to others. And it shows him failing. Over and over and over again. But Fielder doesn’t quit. One idea after another, he sets out to prove something. That he is likeable. That he is smart. That people can overcome their deep-seated prejudices. That they can be whatever they want to be. That the world doesn’t have to be such a cynical place.
And at the very least, maybe “Nathan for You” will just make you laugh. Maybe that can be enough. I’m sure Fielder will take it.
The first three seasons of “Nathan for You” (eight episodes each) are available on Comedy Central’s website with your television provider information. The show was renewed for a fourth season in December, expected to air in 2016. Check it out, and let us know what you think.