The best Nathan For You episodes have Nathan Fielder attempting to help a business, then going so far with the idea that you almost forget what the original idea was in the first place. “Dumb Starbucks” came out of Fielder trying to help a struggling coffee shop that decided they didn’t want his help. Earlier this season, in “Electronics Store,” we saw Nathan start a lawsuit against Best Buy, but the segment began as a way to get cheap TVs out of the hands of the big business and into the hands of the little guy. Fielder finds his strength often in starting a small idea and growing into a monster that is so big, it’s insane how well he can control it.
“The Movement” is one such brilliant idea, as Nathan helps David Sassounian, owner of City of Angels Moving Company. As Sassounian mentions, the most expensive cost in his business are the employees. Nathan’s idea is to turn his moving business into the next fitness craze, so that people will want to do work for free in exchange for a great workout. At its core idea, it’s not great, but it’s one that you could see working, especially on this show. Where “The Movement” succeeds is the level at which Nathan takes it.
“The Movement” could’ve simply had Nathan setting up a Craigslist page, asking people if they wanted a free workout, then responded to those strange weirdoes that look for workout regimens on Craigslist and see what happens. Instead Nathan takes a wholly more insane approach. First, he needs a charismatic figure that people engaged in the workout can look up to. He finds such a character in Jack Garbarino, an older, fit man who has no problem signing a contract with Nathan that ensures that Fielder has the rights to Garbarino’s likeness, name and even DNA in case of his death.
But is having a leader enough? Of course not! Every workout has to have a book, so Nathan hires a ghostwriter to create Garbarino’s book The Movement: How I Got This Body By Never Going To the Gym In My Life, which is written by a guy named Austin Bowers. When Bowers writes a sentence off the top of his head, we get the rare moment where in Nathan’s reaction we can tell he’s thinking “holy shit, this is gold.” Bowers’ book goes in crazy directions, such as stating that Garbarino was friends with Steve Jobs and that he volunteers with “jungle children,” including one that was kidnapped by baboons and eaten.
It’s insane, but somehow it works. Local news stations start picking up Garbarino’s story, Garbarino has no problem lying on camera to the masses, and people are lining up to try out the workout. Even after a five hour workout that involves moving an entire house worth of furniture and boxes to a new house, no one seems to realize they’ve been tricked into doing labor for free.
“The Movement” immediately builds and builds to crazy levels. It’s not like Nathan realizes that this isn’t going to work without a book—he starts there and only keeps progressing into craziness. Yet on the way to the pinnacle of strangeness, Nathan fills it with tinier moments that are so excellently wonderful, it’s hard not to giggle with glee. For example, no one ever mentions that Austin Bowers sounds an awful lot like Austin Powers. And Nathan’s narrative asides are always fantastic such as when he says he has “major trust issues stemming from a non-sexual incident that happened when I was a child.”
As crazy as things get here, it’s when Nathan pushes too far on a personal level that things get great. Nathan is so insistent that Garbarino never goes to a gym, that he creates a terrible gym for him in a storage space. When Nathan discovers that Garbarino has actually been neglecting this gym, Nathan brings back private investigator Brian Wolfe to check if Garbarino is going to his old gym. Not only does Nathan confront Garbarino, he threatens him, saying he’ll be keeping an eye on him for the next six months and makes him wear a wig and beard to the gym for that period. And the craziest thing is, as always with this show, he actually goes for it.
This personal awkwardness of course continues with Wolfe, who is always hostile towards Nathan, yet they’ve created a strange friendship over the series. We keep learning crazy things about Wolfe’s life, but finding out that Wolfe did pornography, but refuses to call it pornography, leads Nathan to not let that drop, much like he refused to admit he looked at pornography long ago. The final pushing of personal awkwardness comes at the end of the episode, when Nathan’s plan surprisingly works and Nathan finally introduces Sassounian to Garbarino, despite Sassounian being absent the majority of the episode, seemingly unaware of the full extent of this plan. As Nathan introduces them, he quickly leaves to avoid the awkward, one-sided conversation that occurs, before causing another awkward conversation with Wolfe, finally convincing him that he actually did pornography.
“The Movement” allows Nathan For You to go to its two greatest extremes: Nathan’s flair for the bombastic and his ability to be as strange and push the limits with individuals as far as possible. It’s not the craziest stunt Nathan has pulled so far, but the fantastically strange scope of the whole situation and his hilarious way of pushing people just to the end of their breaking point combine beautifully here.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.