nathan for you

What I Did With My Summer Vacation: Nathan For You

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Alex Russell

In What I Did With My Summer Vacation we explore shows you should catch up on during TV’s slowest season. This week: the nervous weirdness of Nathan For You.

It’s summer, and TV is dead. Even with Netflix releases of shows like Orange is the New Black, we’re still mostly at the mercy of TV scheduling to determine when we watch new stuff. If your DVR looks like mine, right now you don’t have much to catch up on. This is the perfect time to start something new. For the next few weeks, we’re going to go over what you should watch to get ready for the glorious return of fall TV.

The first installment is Nathan For You, a supremely strange show that had an eight-episode first-season run on Comedy Central last spring. In each episode, comedian Nathan Fielder meekly suggests business ideas to struggling local businesses. They range from the simple and bad (a cab service where you can opt out or in to conversation with the driver) to the complex and bad (a gas station that offers “free” gas with rebate where the rebate requires customers to climb a mountain and sleep in the woods).

The real joy of Nathan For You is that these ideas aren’t complete jokes. For a brief second, all of them seem like they have a chance at working. When Nathan suggests that a burger place claim that they have the best burger in town — and they’ll give you $100 if they’re wrong — you definitely feel compelled to go to the burger place and see. Watch this three-minute clip from the episode:

The business owners in these episodes always come off genuine. Nathan only shames people or makes them look stupid if they’re actually terrible people. There’s an episode with a private detective who is genuinely awful, and it’s fun to watch Nathan make him look like an idiot on TV. There’s a very The Daily Show with Jon Stewart feel to those interviews, but in this one the burger guy just seems genuine. He wants you to eat his burger and he thinks it’s the best in town, he’s just not sure he wants to risk $100 that he’s wrong. Nathan offers to put up the cash himself, and the game is on. You might see where this is going.

“Cringe TV” can be pretty awful. I’ve written before about how The Office was a fun show, but 22 minutes of Michael Scott disappointing inner city kids in “Scott’s Tots” doesn’t work because it’s too mean and too sad. Nathan For You has some rough moments to watch, but they’re all at Nathan’s expense. When he offers people a free pizza if a pizza place can’t deliver in eight minutes, you know it’s going to end badly. But when the customer is angry that the free pizza is the size of a hand, Nathan’s the one who gets yelled at. It’s funny because you think the poor real pizza delivery guy is going to catch hell, but it’s this nervous Canadian comic instead. The pizza guy getting yelled at is sad; Nathan having shit rain down on him is amazing.

You should start with the gas station episode. It’s really beyond description to watch people file into a van to spend the night in the woods with Nathan to save miniscule amounts of money on gas. The creators’ choice to pop up images about how little people are saving as they go through the ridiculous rebate process is inspired. Watch it, love it, and throw the new one airing tonight on your DVR. What, what else are you watching tonight?

You can watch all eight episodes of season one of Nathan For You on Comedy Central’s website.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

“Dumb Starbucks” is Part of Something Bigger and You Really Shouldn’t Be Missing It

Alex Russell

On Friday, the new twitter account @dumbstarbucks announced the dawning of a new business. Dumb Starbucks is open and is very real.

Maybe you saw a post about it and maybe you didn’t. Even if you’ve read up on it, though, there’s just not that much to know about Dumb Starbucks. It’s a supposed art exhibit (that’s their argument, they are an artistic parody of Starbucks, so they can use the name) that sells coffee as art. They stuck the word “dumb” in front of everything about the most famous coffee chain in the world, from their business name to their specific drink sizes (get a Dumb Venti, etc) and opened to the world.

The video above was released today, from the “owner.” That’s comedian Nathan Fielder, who is most likely best known for his series of Twitter pranks. He asked people to text their parents and significant others incendiary comments like “I haven’t been fully honest with you” just to see the response. He’s fascinated by what we all are: how bad can it get? Everyone who has ever thought about pushing someone down the stairs but held off because you’re not supposed to act like that can appreciate Nathan Fielder. There’s a lot to love about doing what you’re not supposed to do.

It’s funny to read about someone telling their significant other something terrible because it is funny to think of how our own friends would react. How would your mom handle getting a text from you that asked about buying drugs? How would your girlfriend respond to a text that appears to precede bad news about your relationship? You can imagine — but you won’t test it because you are presumably not a monster.

Some people are monsters.

Nathan Fielder is the star of Comedy Central’s very strange and very beautiful Nathan For You. There’s a ton of it on Comedy Central’s site, I highly suggest you check some out. The show ran for one eight-episode season last year during a very strong season of new shows for a network that is relatively infamous now for throwing pilot after pilot out and then forsaking them all. They picked up another season of Nathan For You that is set to air this year at some point.

The show is about Nathan agreeing to help small businesses with aggressive new strategies. He demands that a pizza place offer a free pizza if they don’t meet their delivery goal, but then the pizza is the size of a quarter. He inspires an ice cream place to create a disgusting flavor to get people in the door. In one truly inspired episode, he creates a rebate for gasoline that is so impossible to redeem that it ends up being a hike and sleepover in the mountains with lunatics.

The joy of Nathan For You is in the moment that you realize everything has escalated beyond what you thought could be possible. How intense can the process for redeeming a gas rebate be? It involves impossible riddles and your own spirit journey. How could it? Really, how could it?

This is clearly — on some level, though surely not entirely — the best possible ad for Nathan For You. There will be more reveals and Starbucks will sue them to death and this will end up being all about getting you to watch season two of a weird show that you might not know about. It’s a pretty great joke by itself, but if it gets you to at least click on Comedy Central’s site and watch a few Nathan For You bits, then it’s even better.

Nathan For You will return to Comedy Central Summer 2014.