In the world of Nathan For You, there’s really three types of business owners that Nathan Fielder encounters. There are the owners that will give complete trust to Nathan’s plans, the ones that decide halfway through that they’ve made a huge mistake and the ones who nip the idea in the bud before it’s too late. “Horseback Riding/Man Zone” is one of the rare episodes that gives us the trifecta of Fielder reactions, from the totally complacent to the immediately infuriated.
In fact the “horseback riding”—the first scenario of the episode—presents both ends of the spectrum. As Nathan states, “there’s nothing more fun than sitting on an animal that’s bigger than you and riding it around.” However, due to Park Place Stables’ weight restrictions, overweight people aren’t allowed to enjoy this pinnacle of fun. Nathan’s idea is to attach weather balloons to the morbidly obese to lighten the load on the horsey and allow them the ride of their lives. In “horseback riding,” we can see Nathan pushing the stables owner Joy Lazarus as hard as he can. First the balloons, which, c’mon, right away she should know better. Then Nathan escalates matters by having a group of guys follow the horsey with giant pizza paddles in order to block any stray branches from popping the balloons.
But it’s when “horseback riding” turns into Nathan defending the balloons from “razor-beaked birds in the sky” that we meet the true star of “Horseback Riding/Man Zone.” His first idea with dealing with those feathered pests is to get a gun that can incapacitate birds. There we meet an incredibly obnoxious gun owner with a poor hat choice and a Bluetooth that goes “uh-oh” whenever he receives a message. This gun owner is immediately hostile towards Nathan when he presents his idea of a “huggable world scenario where anyone can do anything” and can incapacitate birds, but not kill them, with a “bubblegum and sunshine gun.” So, guns are right out. Instead, Nathan attaches a scarecrow to a drone in order to scare away the birds.
“Horseback Riding” works because of the sheer ridiculousness of the entire situation by the end. With an overweight man on a horse, wearing weather balloons, followed by men with giant pizza paddles and a scarecrow dangling from a drone, the punchline is that anyone would allow for any of this to even happen. Yet surprisingly, the only time Joy Lazarus, owner of Park Place Stables, fights back against Nathan is when he states that these balloons will be her legacy. It’s the perfect icing on this insane cake.
In the “oh shit, maybe this wasn’t a good idea” segment, the “man zone” is the lesser of the three segments this week, but it’s Nathan’s personality that makes it excellent. At the Elizabeth Albert boutique, Nathan pitches a man zone, where men could go while their girlfriends or wives shop. This segment works because of the strange persona Nathan’s created for the show, especially in his attempts to make male friends that almost never works. His comfortable man zone that is geared towards a man’s masculine needs is full of mother f-ing beers and royalty-free football [RIP Tampa Bay Bandits and their sweet, sweet Bandit Ball—Ed.], but it’s when Nathan starts talking to his “bros” about sex positions that the guys really start to enjoy the zone created for them. Yet the shop’s owner Susan Kim only seems to have a problem with the beers and the segment ends rather abruptly, despite it being the best of his ideas for the week.
It’s the complete absurdity of the third and unmentioned segment in the title that steals the show. After discovering that his beloved soft-shell jacket maker Taiga had a tribute to a Holocaust denier in one of their winter catalogues (albeit being almost over a decade ago), Nathan sets out to create Summit Ice, a company where he can create his own jacket while also promoting the true story of the Holocaust. Much like “horseback riding,” the brilliance here comes from just how far Nathan will escalate the situation until there’s no chance of a good reaction. With the help of a rabbi, Nathan decides the company’s tagline should be “deny nothing,” and the in-store display they convince a shop owner to give them is filled with Nazi flags, mannequins wearing Auschwitz prisoner outfits under the Summit Ice soft-shell, and an oven filled with a human skeleton. As if that’s not enough, Summit Ice’s website actually exists, with links at the bottom of every page for both “Softshell Technology” and “The Holocaust.” It goes about as well as planned, with the shop owner calling the combination of retail and history a train wreck, which shouldn’t be a surprise.
With an episode like “Horseback Riding/Man Zone,” Nathan For You makes the reality of the situations slightly questionable, and it makes the mind wonder just how many people they must’ve had to interact with to get the desired situations. For example, there’s no way the insane gun shop owner was the first person they ran into, and there must’ve been far more people visiting the man zone besides the few we see. Also Nathan’s manipulation of the scenarios becomes more prevalent, as some research shows the Taiga situation to have existed for years or his attempts to push the business owners as far as possible to incite a desired reaction. Yet all of these elements that could pull audiences out of the show all work together and don’t distract, only making the episode even better when you realize the full lengths Nathan and the show must go to to create this craziness.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.