Not many reality shows focus on the host, which makes “Nathan For You” all the more fascinating, as it is a subtle character study as well as hilarious fodder for those who attach themselves to its style. “Nathan For You” sees Nathan Fielder, a business school graduate, traveling around, giving advice to small-business owners who feel down on their luck, looking to improve their stores or find ways to get customers excited about their products. Of course, this is a comedy show, and Nathan often creates elaborate and bizarre plans for them to get customers in or simply grow their business. It also helps that Nathan is seemingly a lonely slave to the show, always noting how he is single and alone while reinstating that he needs to “focus on his work.” We never quite know if this is the real Fielder or a characterization of himself.
The season three premier, “Electronics Store,” is a highlight reel of why Nathan For You is such a treat to watch. Fielder dreams up a crazy scheme to help the owner of a small electronic store battle Best Buy. The owner of the store, Alan Harikian, needs a tactic to get people in his doors. Fielder’s plan involves taking on Best Buy’s price match policy by convincing Harikian to advertise his Samsung TVs at $1, while buyers recruited by Nathan take the flyer to Best Buy, demanding that the price be honored. This will allow Harikian to amass several of these TVs for almost free while selling them in his own store. “Are you in a relationship?” Fielder asks, using his own personal strategy to coax Harikian into feeling for him to create a sense of sameness. Harikian passively overlooks this, while Fielder says, “I’m not in a relationship either, so we can both work on this full time.” It’s the little glimpses of Nathan’s psyche that gives the show a dynamic or surrealism while portraying very real things, such as helping others. And in the end, “Nathan For You” always finds a way to make things strangely human, even if its host seems the opposite.
There has to be a way to stop potential “real” customers from coming and simply snatching up all the TVs Harikian has, so Fielder conjures up a scheme that serves as a commentary on consumer greed while also keeping in tune with the show’s commitment to making normal people do weird things to get what they want. Fielder wants to make it as hard as possible for the actual interested customers to get a TV. He demands that each customer dresses formally and builds a maze of sorts to defend them, starting with a tiny door straight out of “Alice in Wonderland” that customers must crawl through, only to find a room on the other side housing a live alligator guarding the mountain of Samsung TVs. The idea of a man dressed in a tux crawling through a tiny door to get a TV is already imaginative enough, but utterly hilarious once seen in action.
While Fielder finds success with driving customers away, his fake buyers who were sent to Best Buy cannot get the company to honor its price match guarantee. Fielder marches down to Best Buy, his tux still on, scolding the company for not honoring a policy “that drew me in as customer,” according to Fielder. Although this scene is short, it is such a hilarious exchange between Fielder and Best Buy and his scheme begins to safely seem bizarre to the viewer. The episode switches gears here and becomes a mission to let Fielder exact his revenge on Best Buy with a class-action lawsuit. Harikian is roped into the lawsuit unwillingly, claiming it will hurt what he has spent so long building up, but Nathan visits a psychiatrist with Harikian so he can explain the grand plan to plea insanity while Harikian explains everything Fielder has dreamed up.
Based off advice from one of the show’s previous guests, judge Anthony Filosa, Fielder needs a testimony from a former Best Buy employee to make his claims about the policy valid. He then posts a Craigslist ad announcing auditions for a fake reality show “Retail Dating,” a development that fans will probably see as another attempt for Nathan to go on a date under the guise of “doing it for the show.” He successfully sets up a date with Best Buy employee Elle, posing as a worker from Hot Topic, donning his best assumed “goth” garb, facial piercings and all. This whole date scene works as more depth into Fielder, which ends up with him getting little information about the policy, and a lot of painfully unsettling shots of he and Elle learning how to Salsa dance on the first date. Fielder smiles while Elle tries not to run away, and the short clip of the two saying goodbye (“OK, yeah, see ya.”) is assuredly stiff and a priceless peak of the episode.
Fielder then realizes the lawsuit is pretty much bunk and gives up trying to make it happen because Elle would have to willingly testify in court on Best Buy, something Nathan is sad she isn’t going to do willingly. Although he admits defeat, one of the rare heartwarming moments of the show comes through when Fielder sets Harikian up with a woman who auditioned for “Retail Dating.” The episode ends with the two progressing through the blossoming talk of a potential connect, while Fielder drives off, claiming that while it’s good for them, he’s “fine being alone, because it would help me focus on my work.” We see a semi-long shot of Nathan looking lifelessly ahead while driving after he says these words, and the two together assures that the show’s third season will be more than fine as long as Fielder is happy with others and still disappointed with himself.