in Review

Nathan For You – Season 2

I’m a little hesitant to make such a claim, since there are a lot of funny shows on TV right now, and in particular on Comedy Central, but Nathan For You might currently be the funniest show on television.  Sure, a traditionally scripted show like Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Bob’s Burgers might deliver a more steady stream of chuckles and guffaws.  But speaking from my own personal experience, Nathan For You is a show that has left me increasingly satisfied because each episode has such a high probability of at least a couple of huge, aching bellylaughs.  And these are the kinds of laughs I live for.  They’re the kind of laughs that I tend to get only when I’m watching something that’s obviously rooted in reality, but consists of situations that are so absurd and so unbelievable that really there is no other acceptable physical reaction.

The first season of Nathan For You saw the show and it’s deadpan host, Nathan Fielder, arrive with a pretty fully-formed point-of-view and particular style of convincing business owners to go along with Fielder’s ridiculous schemes to gain more revenue.  So it’s nice to see that in season 2, the formula doesn’t get tweaked too much, with each episode usually consisting of a couple different proposals in the show’s established docu-drama style.  Since it easily could have gone off the rails with too many stand-alone episodes like (the admittedly great) “Claw Of Shame” episode from season 1.  The highlights this time around include Nathan rebranding a realtor that caters specifically to houses that might be haunted by ghosts, a giant ad for a pet store disguised as a tombstone, and a movie that Nathan films within a gift shop so as to get people to buy stuff in the store because they think they’re doing it for the sake of this “movie”.  I guess this last one points out that there are definitely a few schemes that just continue to become more and more elaborate as Nathan digs himself an even deeper hole that can only end with people getting mildly pissed off at him.

Oh and then there’s the “Dumb Starbucks” episode, which for those who don’t know caused a minor phenomenon in Los Angeles and was talked about on the Internet months before the episode aired.  And again, it’s one of those episodes that includes an increasingly complex concept, since at first Nathan wants to open a “parody Starbucks”, but then has to display all these other different pieces of satirical art to prove he’s a parody artist.  The faux art pieces in the gallery exhibition Nathan puts on, such as advertisements for WoodFellas or Tank Of America, are pretty stupidly hilarious, and a good example of the show’s ability to sneak in smaller comedic details along with the more overt exercises in discomfort comedy that the show does so well.  Speaking of which, I’m kind of glad midway into the season Nathan stopped asking every halfway attractive girl he runs in to if they’d go on a date with him, since despite these moments being pretty funny, I’m not sure there’s anything more uncomfortable than watching someone put their heart out there and getting nothing, even if it is for the sake of comedy.

Season One of Nathan For You had it’s share of odd and distinctive people that it was able to weave into the show’s mundane underbelly of everyday Southern California culture.  Luckily, a few of my favorite “characters” from season 1 show up for season 2, such as Brian Wolfe (the P.I. who kept calling Nathan a lonely nerd, and apparently has his own reality show now) and Simon Kellog (the breast-obsessed security guard who Nathan tries to pitch as a reality star in the season 2 finale).  I guess the P.I. in particular was my favorite character from season 1 because he had the most unfiltered reaction to Nathan’s proposals on a show where people are constantly forcing themselves to be more polite than they have any right to be.  One of the joys of season 2 is continuing to see the wide spectrum of how far people are willing to go with Nathan’s ideas for improving their businesses — some of which end up like a toy manufacturer who basically just tells Nathan that he’s really bad at his job if these are the kinds of ideas he comes up with.  And then there are those wonderful snowball-ing storylines, such as one that starts with Nathan trying to guarantee customers don’t cut in line at Pink’s Hot Dogs, and ends with him ambushing one of the customers with a guilt trip on the high seas.

You know, as I’ve been writing this, I keep wondering whether I should be, since I can’t help but think of the old addage that trying to dissect something that’s really singularly funny is kind of like poking a dead frog.  But regardless of the validity of this review, I do think Nathan For You is a wonderful and hilarious creation, though its aforementioned singularity does make me wonder a bit about the future of this show.  Its premise is so specific that I can’t help but think that they can only go in so many directions with it, which is a concern that was bolstered by a recent interview I heard on Julie Klausner’s How Was Your Week? podcast in which Nathan Fielder admitted that going into it, he had no idea how he was gonna be able to come up with enough ideas for season 2.  So I can’t help but wonder if Nathan For You might be best suited for a shorter run, much like one of its closest TV relatives, Da Ali G Show (which has apparently been resurrected on FXX and I somehow don’t care at all).  Also, it isn’t a terribly high-rated show, and still hasn’t been picked up for a third season as far as I know.  But whatever Nathan For You‘s fate may be, it’s well-deserving of a cult audience who is thoroughly sore from discomfort-induced laughter.