Nathan for You Season 4 Review

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CREDIT: Comedy Central

This post was originally published on News Cult in November 2017.

Network: Comedy Central

Showrunners: Nathan Fielder, Michael Koman

Main Cast: Nathan Fielder

Notable Guest Stars: Anthony Napoli, Brian Wolfe, Salomon Flores, William Heath

Episode Running Time: 22 Minutes (42-Minute Special Episode, 84-Minute Season Finale)

The virality that propelled Nathan for You to such dizzying heights in its first three seasons is a double-edged sword when it comes to longevity. It can help build awareness, but increased visibility makes it difficult to pull off the same tricks again. However, Nathan for You is not stunt-driven in quite the same way as a prank show like The Eric Andre Show or an ambush show like Billy on the Street. Nathan’s methods do not require anonymity, at least not always. (Although it is worth noting that despite how much buzz and journalistic attention NfY has received, its viewership has not correspondingly spiked.) The show can still work even if Nathan is recognizable – his painstakingly fastidious approach to production makes it nearly impossible to stay ahead of him anyway. But it becomes a problem when a show that broke the mold starts to become predictable. And while Nathan for You remained astute and idiosyncratic in Season 4, its patterns became a little overly familiar.

NfY’s signature is its knack for spinning simple (but offbeat) business proposals into complex (but satisfying) narratives. The season premiere, “The Richards Tip,” is a classic example: Nathan’s plan to get a struggling diner business-boosting press is to procure a generous tip from a celebrity. But because he cannot book an actual famous person, he turns to a Michael Richards impressionist. To cover his tracks, he must open a just-legitimate-enough bank account, start publishing a newspaper, get some random guy to legally change his name, and temporarily handcuff himself to that same guy. A similar effort, “Shipping Logistics Company,” covers his attempt to re-brand fire alarms as musical instruments for the sake of cheaper international shipping costs. This leads to him forming a band and staging a fake business scandal at the expense of Shell Oil to prompt a protest. The details within these episodes are impressive, but with Nathan having set such a high standard for himself, they do not have the same punch as previous landmark efforts like “Dumb Starbucks.”

Sidenote: I occasionally worry about the ethics, or lack thereof, on Nathan for You, especially in episodes like “Richards Tip” and “Shipping Logistics Company,” which are driven by deceptions, obfuscations, and outright lies. Nathan Fielder may be playing the character of “Nathan Fielder,” but nobody else on the show is existing within a role (at least not intentionally). “Nathan” (and Nathan) ostensibly take great pains to remain honest, or at least maintain the appearance of honesty. Sometimes the point may be that it is impossible to do so within such schemes, but it is still concerning.

When a show is as frequently ambitious as NfY, it is disconcerting in Season 4 when it has episodes with multiple short segments, which was the norm in Season 1 but only occurs twice this year. Those outings can feel rather disposable, but they are worth it for their memorably awkward moments, as when a computer repair shop owner readily shares with Nathan his masturbation routine, or when Nathan’s assistant Salomon Flores flirts awkwardly (and semi-successfully) while applying makeup for the first time in his life.

A promising way towards the future is present in a couple of sequel outings. “Andy vs. Uber” revisits the titular taxi driver whom Nathan helped in Season 2 by offering a promotion for anyone who gives birth in a taxi. When the pair discover that Uber has had a similar program, they attempt to take down the ride-sharing giant by means of infiltration. Andy’s story ends on an anticlimactic note, which is narratively unpleasant, but still a meaningful comment of the cruelty of the economy in the 21st century (or any era). “A Celebration,” a special one-hour episode that aired a week before the season premiere proper, takes a look back on a variety of Nathan’s previous guests to see if his plans have aided them in the long run. The track record is mixed, but each client has been affected in their own weird way. The most notable is of course private investigator Brian Wolfe, whom Nathan finally forges a genuine connection with after uncovering Wolfe’s past as a Playgirl model.

Avoiding the trappings of Season 4’s repetition, “The Anecdote” is a series high-water mark. At least once a year, Nathan turns the focus on himself, and this time it is especially relevant as he seeks to better his skill set for promoting his own show. You see, appearing as a guest on talk shows is now a necessary part of his career, but it has never come naturally to him the way it seemingly does for so many other famous people. But after studying hours of talk show footage, he cracks the code for the perfect interview anecdote. And because of his one-of-a-kind integrity, he engineers the events of such an anecdote to actually happen in his own life. Brilliant in its powers of deconstruction, “The Anecdote” reveals Nathan Fielder as one of our finest sociologists.

If Season 4 finds Nathan returning to some of his old tricks too often, that does not seem so terrible in light of the stunningly ambitious, movie-length finale. Maybe those formulaic episodes are relatively necessary to allow him to pull off what he does with “Finding Frances.” The story follows Bill Heath, a highlight from Season 2 as an amateurish, but strangely earnest Bill Gates impressionist. Since his initial appearances, Heath has taken to randomly popping into the NfY offices and divulging bits of his life story to Nathan. A mention of a long-lost love sparks a trip to Bill’s native Arkansas to track down a woman he almost married but hasn’t been in contact with for decades. The sprawling tale is the most intense example of this show’s guests opening up about themselves in unpredictable, compellingly unguarded fashion. A subplot involving Nathan’s series-long search for companionship presents our host as the sweetest and most openly emotional we have ever seen him. This show has always had a permeable membrane between artifice and reality, and here it snaps away (or at least appears to) right before our eyes. All this time we never realized how much Nathan for You was making us fall in love, or maybe it did it suddenly from out of nowhere.

Best Episodes: “A Celebration,” “The Anecdote,” “Finding Frances”

How Does It Compare to Previous Seasons? The achievements of the first three seasons have set a high standard that Season 4 at its best is still somehow able to top. There may be some (relatively) run-of-the-mill episodes, but they are perfectly acceptable tradeoffs in the grand scheme of things.

Nathan for You Season 4 is Recommended If You Like: The Office, Tim and Eric, Shark Tank (Ironically), HGTV Real Estate Shows (Ironically), Undercover Boss (Ironically)

Where to Watch: Season 4 is currently available on CC.com. Seasons 1-3 are available for purchase on Amazon and YouTube.

Grade: 4.2 out of 5 Really Good Grades

Jeffrey Malone’s 50 Favorite TV Shows of All Time

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You can learn a lot about people from their favorite television programs. TV viewing involves spending a lot of time with fictional characters and more or less forming relationships with them. Who we choose to spend our time with says a lot about our own personalities. With that in mind, here are the current standings for my 50 favorite shows of all time.

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Best Episode of the Season: Nathan for You Season 2

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“Souvenir Shop/E.L.A.I.F.F.”
“Dumb Starbucks” got the headlines, but there was another Nathan for You Season 2 episode that spun out in epic proportions, as Nathan’s efforts to improve a Hollywood souvenir shop’s profits led to the production of a short film that involved celebrity impersonators, an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, and the ever-unreliable Windows 95.