Season three of Comedy Central’s Nathan for You is now in full swing. The premise of this hilarious reality TV series is simple: comedian Nathan Fielder is a business consultant who comes up with hair-brained schemes to help actual small businesses. For instance, at the end of episode six of season three, Nathan convinces the owner of a struggling travel agency to upsell funeral services, exploiting the untapped customer base of older people. Unsurprisingly, this plan, along with most of Nathan’s creative ideas, backfires. There are still several episodes left in this season, but the initial verdict is in: the third installation is a hit.
Nathan for You succeeds as a satire of fixer-upper shows (think HGTV’s home makeovers). The genius of the satire lies in the detail. For instance, in the pilot episode Nathan advises a struggling frozen yogurt shop to start selling poop-flavored fro-yo to revitalize its business. Despite this crude and startling suggestion, the show does not rely on bathroom or slapstick humor to make this episode funny. Instead, Nathan documents the entire process of the flavor’s development, including a consultation with a flavor expert and a focus panel. Nathan nails this, and all of his performances by remaining deadpan throughout. The satire is all the more successful because Nathan uses sound business concepts to advance preposterous ideas.
In season three, Nathan stays faithful to the show’s formula and continues to advance outlandish ideas. In the first episode of the season, he works with a small electronics shop facing competition from Best Buy and its price match guarantee. To help undersell Best Buy, Nathan advertises one-dollar TVs. The catch? Customers have to walk through a room with an alligator to actually get the TV. In this episode, we watch as Nathan employs humor to criticize all those big box retailers that make it difficult for small businesses to survive.
More broadly, Nathan uses a veneer of comedy to demonstrate how the pursuit of profit often leads to unethical behavior. Nathan has an attenuated moral compass, failing to consider how his actions affect others. For instance, in the electronics store episode, Nathan uses a romantic date as a means to procure a witness for a lawsuit against Best Buy. Surprisingly, Nathan actually realizes that his actions are hurtful in that situation, but only after the second date, when it is too late to fix things.
Each episode of Nathan for You has a predictable arc: Nathan introduces a business, develops a new business strategy, and unsuccessfully implements this plan. Nathan operates within this formula to create a reliably funny parody. There are times when the jokes are crude and the humor is dumb, but for the most part this clever show will consistently make you laugh. True to its title, Nathan Fielder is the entirety of the show. His performance brings the sketches to life, but can only be tolerated in small doses. I found watching more than a couple episodes at a time repetitive and exhausting, but individually, each episode is comedic genius. Binge watchers beware.
Grade: A-. Watch him on TV but just don’t hire Nathan to save your business.