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Nathan For You: The Complete Series
In 10 Words or Less
One of the best comedies ever to grace TV
Loves: Nathan For You, Nathan Fielder
Likes: Prank shows, comedy art
Dislikes: Bad impersonators, creeps
Hates: Reality TV
The concept here is simple: Nathan Fielder finds small businesses that are struggling and gives them some help in order to turn things around. It's a classic reality-tv trope, seen in plenty of popular series like Kitchen Nightmares or The Profit. The thing is, Fielder's advice, though undeniably intriguing and arguably effective, verges on business suicide, as it tends to be rather unusual, often antisocial, remarkably complex and expensive and--at times--flat-out illegal. And that's a big reason why the show is consistently hysterical, in an "I can't watch this" kind of way.
Most episodes see Fielder help out a pair of businesses, be it a frozen yogurt shop that needs more customers, a TV store fighting off big-box competition or a realtor seeking to sell more houses. After establishing the issue affecting the business, Fielder comes up with a way to help, but it's never quite simple. A gas station needs more customers? Fielder convinces the owner to advertise extremely cheap fuel, but to get the price, one needs to submit a rebate claim. How do you submit that claim? You have to hike into the mountains, solve riddles and find the hidden mailbox. Despite such ridiculous demands, several willing customers actually appear, and that's when the fun really starts. How about helping a moving company find free labor by inventing a new fitness craze around moving boxes and furniture, but needing to invent an icon behind it as well, and then have to deal with his baggage. Because of the winding way episodes unfold, it's hard to pick out highlights, though Fielder's efforts to promote Holocaust awareness through winter jackets is stunning, his concept for a pizza place promotion is insidiously clever, and an idea to help a souvenir shop gets so out of hand it ends up inspiring an entirely separate scheme.
Though the concept is genius and the execution flawless, the show's appeal rides greatly on Fielder, whose brand of sweet Canadian awkwardness is what makes the show so fun. Deadpan to the nth degree, he plays it straight as the earnestly helpful star of the show, oblivious to the damage his schemes could cause thanks to his focus on the goal. Almost any other persona--say, if he was a smart ass or a huckster--would have ruined the feel, as his inability to naturally interact with others is key, putting the businesses and other innocent (and not so innocent) bystanders off-guard. That's especially true when he sets up a stunt of his own (like risking becoming a sex offender if he can't master an escape or crafting a perfect "real life" talk-show anecdote) or as the show builds a running subplot that explains why he seeks to help people. The serial concepts are an interesting element of the series, considering that each episode is self-contained, yet there are callbacks to earlier episodes and recurring characters in service to this idea, like an unusual age-progression expert with disturbing perspective. This effort to flesh out the character and to explore those he interacts with raises what could have been just a prank show into true comedy art.
The "Dumb Starbucks" episode is a perfect example of this, where Fielder creates a parody of everyone's favorite overpriced coffee shop, earning the ability to legally use the company's trademarks simply by adding "Dumb" before the name. It's the perfect example of how Fielder twists the rules ever so slightly to point out something ridiculous about the law (often with the assistance of a judge and lawyer who are just delightful characters) and then takes the whole scenario to its logical, yet extreme conclusion. It's amazing to see just how far he is willing to go to make a bit happen, all the while adding hilarious twists along the way to heighten the comedy. If it was just a matter of setting up the gag and then letting it play out, it would still be funny, but with Fielder, it's the extra few steps that make him into the Rube Goldberg of comedy.
Though season three saw the show get a bit off-track--the idea of signing kids to long-term deals for promotion purposes wasimprossible to pay off properly, and using balloons to help overweight people ride horses is too one-note--the fourth season was a definite return to form, and the whole series culminates in the two-part finale, "Finding Frances," a perfect summation of the persona and world Fielder cultivated over four seasons. Terrible Bill Gates impressionist Bill Heath returns, as Nathan attempts to help him find the love of his life, a woman named Frances whom he was with as a young man, but things didn't work out.
Throughout the show Fielder had been preoccupied with helping others find love (or at least companionship), a result of his character's ever-present loneliness, and this story is no different, but as Fielder gets deeper into Heath's personal history, including traveling with him to his hometown in Arkansas, the story starts becoming murkier, and Nathan isn't sure if he should be helping Heath after all. And, since this is Nathan For You, there's another level to the whole thing, as the eternally lonely Nathan hires an escort to spend time with the lonely Heath, but ends up taking her out himself, and winds up falling for her, in the most awkward parallel-dimension Pretty Woman ever. Aside from being simply good and enthralling TV, Finding Frances is the capper the show deserved, even if the show should have kept going.
While Shout! Factory released the first two seasons of Nathan for You in November of 2015, Paramount has finished the job by putting out all four seasons in a box set of nine DVDs, which are packed in a double-width clear keepcase, with four dual-hub trays. The discs sport static, anamorphic widescreen menus with options to watch all episodes, select shows, adjust subtitles and check out extras (where applicable.) There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English.
Not much has changed with the anamorphic widescreen transfers from the previous release, and that's just fine, as those episodes looks solid for standard definition, and this set does as well, sporting appropriate color, good black levels and a decent level of fine detail. There are definitely some flaws inherent in the production, including noisy low-light footage and pixelation along hard edges, but they improve over time, as the later season episodes are noticeably more attractive, with richer color and higher-quality footage.
Surprisingly, in a world of surround sound, these discs provide a Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation (just like Shout! Factory's previous release.) At least there's nothing to complain about in the sound of this series, as voices are distinct and easily understood (or subtitled where recording situations prevent it) and the music (punctuated by the express use of royalty-free songs) is strong and present. Channel separation is mainly limited to the opening theme music, while the rest of the sound sticks to a very reality TV-like feel. Good, but nothing amazing (even if the music in the finale is particularly well chosen.)
All of the extras from the previous set have been carried over to this release, but Paramount didn't stop there, adding on extras for the third and fourth seasons, all of which can be found on a bonus disc.
The two commentaries from the previous set--which see Fielder and co-creator Michael Koman joined by staffer Salomon Flores on "Private Investigator/Taxi Company" and by Heath on "Souvenir Shop/E.L.A.I.F.F."--are joined by a track on "The Movement", featuring Fielding, writer/producer Leo Allen and fake exercise icon Jack Garbarino. As one might expect from Fielder, these are not straightforward commentary tracks, though the first one is only unusual mainly because of Flores' difficulty in expressing himself (and perhaps discussions about women, Adam Sandler's Click and Quiznos.) The second one...hoo boy. It's very possible that more time is spent on a customer-service phone call than actually commenting on the show. Either way, it's rather entertaining in a very Nathan way. The new track is more pure Fielder, as he hijacks a discussion of the show and instead guides an oblivious, Trump-loving Garbarino into personal discussions about himself. The second you realize what Fielding is up to, it becomes a bit unto itself.
A trio of deleted scenes are available to check out, from "The Hunk" (1:10), "Souvenir Store" (3:11) and--new to this set--"Finding Frances" (2:31). The scene from "The Hunk" features an absolutely ridiculous moment between Fielder and an aspiring actress, while the "Souvenir Store" scene shows faux Johnny Depp hitting on a guy in a very uncomfortable moment. One assumes they were cut for time, since they easily could have been in the show. The "Finding Frances" moment on the other hand, featuring an instrumental song by Fielder's preferred age-progression expert, is the epitome of DVD bonus content.
In a number of episodes, Fielder and his team create content that we see bits of in the show, but full versions are available on these DVDs for a director's cut of The Web (3:57), the City Warts PSA (1:02), the Shell ad featuring the song by The Banzai Predicament (:56), the full tutorial for the Blues Smoke Detector with "Harmonica Greg" (2:01), the great, simple Summit Ice ad (:28), and extended cuts of Simon Sees (8:24) and Teen Street (1:20). Honestly, longer versions of some of these terrible things is almost like punishment, especially considering the repetitive nature of the joke in Simon Sees and the awful personality on display in Teen Street, which somehow ends up even worse. It is somewhat fun though to see more of Heath's overacting in the longer The Web.
In an odd touch (for this show) there's something of a straight-up behind-the-scenes featurette, as "Wire Talk" (4:48) chronicles Fielder's efforts to learn how to walk a tightrope. There's plenty of footage of his attempts, with his thoughts on the process included. Perhaps Fielder is just preternaturally suited for this act, but he seemed to master it quickly (even if it did take a while from start to finish.)
The remaining entries are a mix of odds and ends, some extended moments from the show, others are standalone bits. There are extra moments from the cheap TV episode, with more from the courtroom prep scene (2:32) and more of Heath interacting with an obviously uncomfortable party planner (2:23) from season two. From the "Dumb Starbucks" episode, there are more of the awful parody songs Fielder sings (3:58), including ones not heard in the show, along with the full press conference Fielder held (14:17). This one is performance art all on its own, as Fielder awkwardly interacts with the media and the onlookers surrounding him. More than anything, it shows how little reporters can be capable of understanding about the things they cover.
For more musical morbidness, there's a studio performance of Fielder's song "Tears from Jupiter", as performed by The Banzai Predicament. It was bad performed by Fielder in the show, but this isn't much better. Shining a turd and all that. If you can't get enough of Heath, you can see him and Fielder hit an Arkansas football game, which is a must-see just for Fielder watching Heath eat a hot dog.
The Bottom Line
The four seasons of Nathan for You are some of the most brilliant and hilarious comedy ever aired on TV, and will go down as a true classic, thanks to the character Fielder developed and the ridiculous concepts he explored. Thankfully Paramount hasn't left fans of the show out on the cold, allowing them to own the show's full run on DVD, including the remarkable two-part finale, though if you already own the first two seasons, having to repurchase them in this set is far from ideal. On the plus side, the show looks and sounds quite nice and all of the previous bonus content has been included, along with new extras. If you've never seen the show, you've got four seasons of perfectly crafted TV ahead of you, while fans can revisit Fielder's genius whenever you want.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.