— Hidden Remote (@HiddenRemote) August 9, 2017
The fourth season of the business improvement mockumentary series is expected to be wonkier than ever, and this is coming after episodes focused on an authentic exorcism, a shopping mall Santa Claus with a criminal record, and an electronics store that sells TV sets for a dollar—providing customers can walk past a live alligator to retrieve them.
Watch a compilation:
For those of you who haven’t had the chance to watch, here’s a brief overview.
It’s hosted by Nathan Fielder, a Canadian comic who actually graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools (as he proclaims in the beginning of every episode). Fielder plays a droll marketing consultant attempting to pull struggling small businesses out of their economic slump—using outlandish, convoluted and potentially illegal marketing schemes.
He draws from esoteric laws such as “Theater Law” (in an episode where he convinced a bar owner she’d draw more customers if she allowed them to smoke inside. Isn’t this illegal? Yes, except Fielder found a loophole in the smoking ban that allowed patrons to light up inside, provided it was part of a theatrical performance. Customers entered and signed on as “actors,” yet did little more than sit around, chat and smoke.
Another infamous episode centered around a coffee shop in downtown Los Angeles. Fielder thought the place was losing profit because it was not branded well enough—and thus Dumb Starbucks was born. The store offered Dumb Venti Lattes, Dumb Norah Jones Duets and Dumb Scones…essentially, everything you’d find in Starbucks, with the word “dumb” affixed to it.
In the episode, Fielder promised the owner this plan was within the realm of legality based on parody law, which according to Fielder, “allows you to use trademarks and copyrighted material as long as you’re making fun of them.”
While parody is protected under the law, the store flopped because you can’t sell food and beverages without a license from the Board of Health.
Fielder’s radical strategies have occasionally gone viral, without public knowledge that they were part of his show. Dumb Starbucks made international news, with some journalists speculating the store was created by Banksy.
One thing is for certain—the show is unlike anything else on television. Comedy Central is home to many programs that deviate from the typical norm of slapstick humor, like Broad City and Detroiters, all which retain a level of deep insight alongside their riotous gags.
Still, Nathan For You is a hidden gem. The stunts require an inordinate amount of effort, and viewers are privy to this. Fielder and his writing team are assiduous in their efforts to create something that is poignant, melancholy and absurd. But it’s hard to define exactly what that is.
Fielder plays a sophist marketing consultant and socially-awkward outcast, desperate to turn a profit and arguably more so to form genuine human connections with his clients (all of whom are actual business owners, unaware that they are part of a comedy show).
Watch one of Fielder’s most insane attempts to bond with a stranger:
Fielder’s morality is, at times, questionable. He approaches unwitting business owners with elaborate and incongruous marketing ploys; stunts that are designed to fail. His clients are blue-collar, naïve enough to trust a man who would suggest selling booze to minors would be a good way for a liquor store to increase profits.
Yet rather than finding the show distasteful or manipulative, fans and critics find it endearingly hopeful.
In return for using vulnerable people as entertainment, Fielder gives us something rare—a glimpse at his own vulnerability. Fielder treats his clients with respect and adoration. He’s desperate for their approval, as a businessman and more importantly, as a friend. Many episodes feature appearances by previous guests, where he tries (and usually fails) to bond with them; taking them out for lunch or coffee.
To be clear—this show does not intend to actually turn these struggling businesses around, and obliquely lampoons the owners for our entertainment. But regardless of how eccentric these people are—take James Bailey for example, the professional Santa Claus with a penchant for guns and a dubious past—Fielder is the one we mock.
With his deadpan voice and utter ignorance of social mores, the host opens himself up for constant ridicule. It’s a character derived from Fielder’s teenage years, when he suffered from debilitating insecurities.
“From adolescence through his early 20s, Fielder suffered from anxiety or, as he put it, the near-constant ‘fear of a disaster interaction,’” wrote Jonah Weiner in The New York Times.
As Fielder put it, “In a lot of social situations, I understood what was going on but tried to remove myself from it, because it was too painful to exist in.”
Fielder grew out of his insecurities as he became involved in stand-up comedy, learning to embrace what he once thought were his worst personality flaws—such as the need to speak up during a pause in any conversation, as he told Wiener. In Nathan For You, he harnesses these “defects” for his character, and the result is stunning. It’s obvious that Fielder now embraces his natural awkwardness, which makes for great art while suggesting a certain vitality about the human spirit.
While I appreciate the show’s elaborate concepts which meld dry humor and elaborate personal narrative, it is this pathos that makes me an avid fan. I was, like Fielder, an awkward teenager riddled with high school social anxiety. I overcame this by finding a new group of college friends, joining open-mic poetry events, and realizing that I enjoyed my own company.
Several episodes hinge on these ideas of identity and personal discomfort—like the season three finale, The Hero, which deviates from the traditional business consulting plot in favor of a philanthropic adventure. Fielder chose, at random, to impersonate a part-time arcade worker named Corey Calderwood, who knew only that he was part of a reality show.
Fielder then spent seven months learning to walk a tightrope and adopting Calderwood’s mannerisms. He then donned a 3D mold of the man’s face and a startlingly realistic bodysuit and orchestrated a skywalk between two skyscrapers to raise money for a breast cancer charity. Calderwood became a philanthropic daredevil and instant hero.
— Gisela Margarita (@GiselaPerezTV) July 2, 2015
When Fielder removes his costume and assumes his old identity, he is visibly distraught as a makeup artist peels off his 3D mask – though whether he was shaken from undertaking the dangerous stunt or just uncomfortable in his own skin is left to the viewer to determine.
According to Paste Magazine, the episode shows how Fielder “can’t necessarily find happiness in himself by becoming other people, no matter how effective he is at doing this.”
Paste writes that the third season “found the show at its most fascinating when it relies on watching Nathan helping individuals rather than businesses, and it’ll be interesting to see how both the show and Nathan himself evolves in the upcoming fourth season.”
Hey everyone guess what. Nathan For You returns Sept 28 to Comedy Central
— nathan fielder (@nathanfielder) July 25, 2017
It has evolved into something that includes the following: the return (from a previous season), of a Bill Gates impersonator looking for his long-lost lover, an attempt to “take down” Uber in order to help struggling taxi drivers, and the opening of an asexual computer repair shop (whatever that means).
Watch the trailer:
This much is certain: it will be wacky. After last season’s finale, it was clear that the show had opened a fascinating portal onto humanity. Nathan for You has promised an “epic two hour finale unlike anything that has been broadcast on television before,” according to a press release. After Fielder’s live tightrope walk, it’s difficult to imagine what this could possibly be—but we’re eager to find out.