Currently, television is experiencing an odd polarization of what is available to watch. While it seems like the ever growing number of reality television shows are eventually going to take over television, television is also entering a golden age of writing, where some of the best written shows of all time are available on a nightly basis. Scripted and non-scripted shows are so far apart from one another on the spectrum, but one show has been able to blur the lines between reality and drama, and create a show that many do not know how to take but accept because of the charm the main character provides. This show is Comedy Central’s Nathan For You. The show follows Nathan Fielder, “a business graduate with really good grades”, as he attempts to improve businesses with out-of-the-box-thinking. The show borrows many of the reality show genre conventions and adds them to a realistic, yet unlikely, story that engages the audience by making them unsure of exactly what they are watching. This experience is further enriched by the “character” of Nathan, who reminds the audience they are nowhere near being as lost as he is. Nathan For You is presented to the audience as a reality show where Nathan, a business school graduate, comes up with innovative ways to solve issues within various companies. Each week, Nathan finds a new establishment to share his unconventional ideas with. While most of Nathan’s ideas seem to fix the problem at hand, such as allowing people to cut a long line at a restaurant if they have somewhere important to be, they are not always well thought out, and often lead to bigger issues for the company (such as people lying in order to cut). Actions like these lead Nathan to create hilarious and entertaining moments, like taking line-cutting liars out to sea in order to punish them. These moments make the audience question the legitimacy of the show. All the while, the show continues to use conventions of the reality show genre, leading the viewer to accept the show as an honest reality show. Interestingly enough, since the show does not once break character, the audience is never truly sure if what they are watching is scripted or not. The illusion is maintained because while most of the things going on in the show seem like they must be scripted, they do have roots in reality. Since the show does not explain to the audience what is actually going on, the audience chooses to adopt that the show is real because it makes it that much more entertaining for them. This is the same concept that most reality shows use to gain success as well. The difference is that if Nathan For You tried to emulate these shows to a tee, it would not be successful because people do not care about Nathan the same way they do about other reality stars. The way Nathan portrays his character is crucial to the show because it is the reason the show has been able to suspend the audiences questioning of what genre it falls into, allowing the show to live in both genres at the same time and not be picked apart by its audience for doing so.
While the audience is not quite sure what is going on, they are nowhere near as lost as Nathan. The difference is Nathan thinks he knows exactly what to do. Nearly all of Nathan’s business adventures result in him being fired or leaving the company in worse shape than it was in when he started. Let’s be clear: this isn’t due to lack of effort, but lack of intelligence. Nathan’s screwball ideas range from raising taxi service profits by giving rides to only pregnant women, in the hopes they have a child in the company’s car, all the way to making a movie theater enforce a “no concession sharing” rule by installing night cameras and observing customers. To the average person, all of these ideas sound absolutely ridiculous. They are backed up by logic that does not have real world applications, yet Nathan sees them as foolproof, and does not back down in his execution. In showing his adventures, the show features hilarious, off-beat comedy that allows the audience to stop questioning the legitimacy of the show, and instead just enjoy how dumb the whole situation is. This is where the real charm of the show comes from. Unfortunately, after bingeing a couple episodes of the show at a time, this charm clearly fades away because the comedy begins to feel forced as the audience realizes that the show is just a cleverly scripted reality show.
In conclusion, Nathan For You is able to blend elements from both reality and scripted shows in a way that does not really explain to the audience what they are watching. But that is ok, because whether or not Nathan is real, his place in the show allows the audience to ignore the real world, and instead enjoy quality off beat humor. Nathan For You earns a solid 3 out of 5 Reels from Celluloid Cinema, because while it is able to combine two very different genres well, the suspension of belief the audience has to maintain for the show to pull this off does not hold up after a few episodes.
Thank you for reading Celluloid Cinema. Please share your opinions in the comments and polls below. Also, if you are interested in seeing the show, check out the Season 3 premiere of Nathan For You this Thursday on Comedy Central.