Nathan for You: Season 4 created by Nathan Fielder and Michael Koman (Comedy Central, Abso Lutely Productions, Blow Out Productions)
Starring Nathan Fielder.
The Dreams of a Lonely Man
A lonely man shoulders the burdens of what is lost. A spare apartment, notable more for the material possessions it lacks rather than the collection of goods signifying a life experienced.
This man, adorned in off-the-rack clothes, emits a simmering desperation, a need for connection. 78 years old, the man represents a life on the verge of completion rather than the unfulfilled dreams of youth.
And those dreams echo the dreams of generations after him. They mirror the dreams of those who came before him. This man wanted to see his name in the marquee, a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Instead, he’s a Bill Gates “impersonator.”
Nathan for You concludes its fourth season with a two-hour, Netflix-style documentary about this impersonator. As Nathan Fielder tells it, Bill, the Bill Gates impersonator, has quite the tale of unrequited love.
So, at the insistence of Nathan and with the backing budget of Comedy Central, the pair plays buddy detectives in the search for Frances, a woman lost over 50 years ago.
A Comedy Playing It Straight
Although a comedy at heart, Nathan plays this episode straight and its emotional core is devastating.
Caught somewhere between an innocent love and something more sinister, Bill is hard to diagnose, and Nathan operates as the viewer stand-in, skeptically questioning Bill’s intentions in this scheme.
While the strategy and plotting behind the episode is impressive, I️ find the character study of this Bill Gates impersonator to be tragic. A man left the Midwest over 50 years ago to make a name for himself in Hollywood and 50 years later he’s still trying to make it.
Recognizing this failed dream places a dense cloud on the proceedings. Bill’s fears feel relational but also professional. It’s fascinating to hear a family member of Bill talk about Nathan for You like it was the biggest thing to happen in Bill’s life. The man has spent 50 years in Hollywood and a basic cable comedy is all he has on his curriculum vitae?
The sweet (mostly, some of Bill’s actions are tough to swallow, even accounting for the social context for his demographic) disposition signified through the gifts Bill brings to Nathan and the dialogue he engages in suggest this show represents the first, real win in his life.
In certain meaningful ways, Bill represents the tragedy of missing out on the life you wanted to live. Depressing stuff for a show on Comedy Central.
Evidence of a Comedy Playing Chess While Everyone Else Plays Checkers
But this anecdote makes an argument for why Nathan for You is one of the best shows on television.
Originating as a fake reality show where Nathan posits hair-brained ideas to small businesses to increase profitability, the premise should be stale four years in.
And yet, episodes like “Finding Frances,” featuring the Bill Gates impersonator, illustrate how Nathan Fielder attempts to create something far deeper than a laugh, and he’s willing to tear apart his formula episode by episode to get to something more meaningful.
Of course, this season offered its fair share of humorous ideas, like a bodysuit full of chili to sell illegally at a sporting event, an asexual computer repair shop to guarantee repair people won’t look at naughty pictures, or reclassifying smoke detectors as musical instruments to avoid tariffs.
But Fielder also swings for the fences with the “Finding Frances” episode, as well as the convoluted manufacturing of a story to tell on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
I️ don’t know if Nathan for You will air another season; the premise still makes it difficult to top. But it’s the best series on television at blending humor, cringe-worthy moments, cultural critique, and emotionally moving set pieces. Nathan for You is a masterpiece.
Verdict: 5 out of 5