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'Nathan for You' recap: A simple idea escalates into wonderful chaos

Season 2 | Episode 2 | “Souvenir Shop/ELAIFF” | Aired July 8, 2014

I believe we are all savvy enough to realize that no reality show reaches our homes without some creative editing and producing. Calling it “reality” is, quite frankly, false advertising. We are under no pretense that Nathan for You is an exact documentary of Nathan’s consultation with businesses; in fact, the creative editing of the show is one of its best qualities.

However, there is something about the series of events in last night’s episode that has given me a spark of inclination, and perhaps hope, that the show was not the preplanned scheme of a producer. How things unfolded was just too bizarre and perfectly chaotic to be choreographed from the outset.

A typical format of the show is for Nathan to assist with two different businesses, but last night’s help with a struggling Hollywood Boulevard souvenir shop spurred a series of events that lasted the whole episode. Nathan’s idea to help the shop is to make it seem as if a Hollywood film was in production in front of the shop at all times, with the help of a Johnny Depp impersonator, attracting hordes of tourists. The film’s plot: Depp plays a “hacker who had to hack into an asteroid to stop it from hitting earth.” The tourists start to arrive, but aren’t buying anything. Nathan then casts them as extras who are buying souvenirs. If they’re hesitant, he introduces them to “Johnny Depp,” who signs their souvenirs, rendering them nonreturnable.

I find prank shows uncomfortable to watch, and even though Nathan is deceiving these people into thinking they are in a movie with Johnny Depp, it doesn’t seem like a mean-spirited prank. Most of his exploits result in people being happy and having a good time; he puts himself in the position of the person being exploited, which is what makes this show more layered than a typical prank show.

Weeks after the successful business consultation, the extras begin emailing him asking when the film is coming out. After consulting a lawyer who tells him he’s liable for fraud, Nathan finds out he needs to actually make the film. He splices together the footage he has and, true to Nathan’s desire for human connection, casts a love scene for himself, resulting in the world’s most awkward onscreen kiss. Hard to watch, but delightfully played.

The finished film is … indescribable. There’s nothing I can say to describe it that would be better than watching it for yourself:

Just having a film is not good enough to absolve him of being fraudulent; he needs it to win an award. Of course, no film festival will take it, so Nathan then has to create his own: the East Los Angeles International Film festival [ELAIFF], of which he is the winner. The win is in the bag, considering the nature of the other entry, which was a “documentary” about flatulence. Now, with award in hand, he is free from fraud.

Because he’s a social masochist, Nathan meets with the actress from the love scene, asking her if she felt something from it. “Well …” she replies, trying to be nice, “I wouldn’t grab you on the street and kiss you out of nowhere.” Once again, Nathan has success in business, and is a failure at life.

Comedians draw from life experiences, and all personae, no matter how exaggerated, are extensions of themselves. As a comedian starts to find commercial and critical success, their status can be incompatible with how they present themselves as someone who still acts socially awkward and self-deprecating. Nathan Fielder is becoming an excellent comedian. I wonder how much longer he can hold up his persona without it seeming really forced. For now, I am comfortable reveling in his stilted and floundering human interactions, as they are surely rooted in some truth. This is evident from his previous attempts to live-tweet the show.

As an update to last week’s premiere, Sue, the “Ghost Realtor,” showed up on Twitter. At first I wrote it off as a novelty account, but the website does actually go back to what seems to be a legitimate real estate site. Sue, of course, still remains sweet as ever:

Nathan for You airs Tuesdays at 10:30/9:30C on Comedy Central.