Nathan for You thrives on loopholes. The faux-reality series on Comedy Central is the brainchild of comedian Nathan Fielder, who finds struggling entrepreneurs throughout the Los Angeles area and attempts to "help" them with his own terrible, terrible ideas.
He might advise an antique store owner to stay open 24 hours, so that drunk people can wander in and break things (thus having to buy them). Or he might set up an incredibly elaborate $1 TV sale, solely to try to take advantage of Best Buy's price-match guarantee.
The best Nathan for You sequences almost always involve the media in some way. In the show's first season, Fielder staged a petting zoo rescue that went viral. In the second season, Dumb Starbucks became an international news sensation.
But neither of those stunts is quite as insidious or hilarious as the one Fielder pulls in season three, when his plans to help a moving company briefly turn a bodybuilder into a local news morning show hero.
The plot that leads to a minor sensation
In an episode called "The Movement," Fielder's "brilliant" idea is to trick a bunch of people into moving stuff because they think they're getting a great workout, allowing the moving company he's working to collect a bunch of free labor.
It's an inherently ridiculous idea, so Fielder, as usual, decides to make it even more ridiculous and hires bodybuilder Jack Garbarino to pose as someone who's never visited a gym but lost more than 100 pounds simply by lifting boxes and furniture. To aid in this task, Fielder has a ghostwriter come up with a self-evidently ridiculous biography for Garbarino, then sends it to a bunch of local news stations.
And the shows have Garbarino on! They ask him straightforward questions about his childhood friendship with Steve Jobs and his charity work helping "jungle kids" — both complete fabrications from the fake biography. They take part in his demonstrations of lifting pieces of furniture and boxes. It's clear that what he's doing is a hoax, but nobody calls him on it. (You can watch things spiral out of control starting at about 6:30 in the clip above. If you watch the whole thing, you'll see the entire wacky story.)
To a degree, Fielder's other trolls of the media made sense when the media fell for them. The petting zoo rescue story was based on a fairly impressive video of a hero pig saving a baby goat. There really was a storefront for Dumb Starbucks in Los Angeles. Sure, a little digging might have exposed the truth, but the surface seemed fairly believable at first blush.
There's really nothing of the sort going on with Garbarino. Everything about the guy seems fishy, but he's got an inspiring personal story. So everybody goes along with it, playing right into Fielder's hands and sharpening the show's occasional critiques of a media that won't do even the most basic of fact checks.
Fielder exposes the gullibility of just about everyone
On Nathan for You, Fielder's main target is gullibility. The series, conceived in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, examines just how little people want to push back against truly bad ideas — even if those ideas might sink their business — provided they're voiced by an "expert."
As Fielder told the Los Angeles Times:
I was really obsessed when the mortgage crisis happened and how it came down to these personal moments between people where someone senses something's wrong, but they don't want to speak up. ... For Nathan on the show, ethics are not on my radar as much. Risk and effort don't seem to register, and it's inspired by that modern Wall Street mindset of finding loopholes.
And that's the point of the show: When something sounds good or comes from a self-proclaimed expert, we want to believe in it. Fielder gets away with so much because he presents himself as someone who knows what he's doing, even though his ideas are completely nuts. The people around him don't call him on it, because they, like everybody else, want to believe.
That makes for great comedy, but it also makes for sneaky social commentary. Things can only get so bad if we let them, but so long as they're sold with a confident smile and filled with good intentions, we're happy to ride along on the road to hell.