After last week’s “The Movement,” which caused Nathan Fielder to create a fake workout craze, market it on many California talk shows and even turned the book into an Amazon bestseller after the episode aired, many reviews questioned if Nathan was starting to become an evil genius, rather than just a business helper. While this criticism might be valid, Nathan Fielder’s ultimate goal is to help the business at hand by any means necessary. If Nathan has a statement he rules his show by, it could easily be “it’s not personal, it’s business.”
That being said, “Sporting Goods Store/Antique Shop” might be the episode that pushes Nathan Fielder from helper to maniacal monster, but when it’s this fantastic, who gives a shit if a few drunks and kids are tricked for the sake of a few struggling businesses?
First, Nathan helps Niky’s Sports, a growing retail soccer chain that has had difficulty with expensive advertising. Nathan’s idea is for Niky’s to get an endorsement from a professional athlete. That could cost millions of dollars however, so Nathan’s idea is to get in on the ground floor and sign long term endorsements with kids who are showing promise now. It may seem silly now, but signing the next David Beckham for only $250 would make the entire pursuit worthwhile.
The “Sporting Goods Store” segment has an increasing icky, yet hilarious level to it that as usually happens with Nathan’s ideas, escalates to borderline disturbing points. One of the most brilliant aspects of Nathan For You is how you think you can tell how creepy certain bits will go, when they only start as your expectations and get worse from there. For example, “Sporting Goods Store” begins with Nathan going to children’s soccer games and watching them closely, before following the kids and their parents into the parking lots to talk to them about his scouting and even take physical measurements. It’s not the child molesty ways of Nathan that is hilarious, it’s the parents’s complete complacency with this idea that makes it so great, to the point that one parent even tells Nathan that his son won’t end up excelling at soccer because he’s overweight.
This of course is only the beginning to the lengths that Nathan will go to for the business at hand. In the episode’s most hilarious moment, Nathan meets with an age progression “specialist” he found on Craigslist, in order to see what the kids he has chosen will look like in about 15 years. The results are clearly children’s faces put on athletes, which as the progressionist states is a “combination of science and vision” with a 90% chance of accuracy. Even if that means accidentally turning Nathan’s top prospect Sasha into a girl.
But seeing if Sasha will be a marketable athlete isn’t far enough. Oh no. When Sasha tells Nathan that he wants to become an astronaut when he grows up, Nathan brings in his old friend and occasional mall Santa James Bailey in to pretend to be an astronaut and nudge Sasha in the right direction. Bailey ends up straight up telling Sasha his astronaut life has been a real nightmare, from his family and friends dying in space to being discriminated at restaurants, to an alien even trying to pull him into the sun. In the end, Bailey’s fear tactics worked and now Nathan’s prospect now dreams of being a soccer player when he grows up. That’s right, Nathan is now changing the dreams of children.
“Antique Shop” feels a little less dirty the more we learn about the person Nathan is taking advantage of. Magnolia and Willow is an antique store that is settled between several bars and nightclubs. Nathan’s plan is to keep Magnolia and Willow open for 24 hours, allowing drunks to come in, enforcing the “you break it, you bought it” policy, and raking in plenty of money for the modest shop. In order to ensure his plan, Nathan goes to a bar and meets JJ, a Forrest Gump fan who Nathan gets drunk, puts him in a sumo costume for a fake costume party and then dangles free pizza in the back of the antique store to maximize the possibility that JJ will wreck the place. Nathan’s plan works like a charm, with JJ ringing up $280 worth of damage. Nathan however feels bad about his new friend and drives him home, to discover that JJ and his brother regularly tag-team girls together and have sex with girls right next to each other. Nathan’s reaction to this news is part shock and disgust, but also a desire to be so close to someone.
For the first time that I can remember, “Sporting Goods Store/Antique Shop” is Nathan taking specific individuals and pushing them down his rabbit hole as far as they will go, whether it’s destroying the astronautic dreams of a young child or making a drunk pay hundreds of dollars for some late night pizza. But Nathan For You does this by subverting the expectations of the audience at every turn, finding brilliant twists to take its audience, no matter how much it might screw the people’s lives he interacts with. For Nathan, it’s not personal, it’s just business. And business is booming.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.