It’s been nearly a decade since Nathan Fielder, prank comedian and graduate “from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades,” revolutionized reality TV with Comedy Central’s “Nathan for You.”
Back in the pop culture conversation thanks to Fielder’s triumphant return in HBO’s “The Rehearsal,” the cult favorite comedy series documented four seasons of Fielder’s — let’s say — unique efforts to help small business owners pull in customers from 2013 to 2017.
Akin to a deranged “Kitchen Nightmares,” each episode of “Nathan for You” chronicles the progress of one or more of Fielder’s outlandish ideas from ludicrous inception to amused/baffled/livid reception. Discount mall Santa photos in July, a hot dog stand prioritizing customers by the importance of where they’re going, poop-flavored frozen yogurt: These are just a handful of the more understated ideas Fielder brings to his (un)lucky participants across 32 “Nathan for You” episodes.
“Contort yourself in the right viewing position and you can see [Nathan for You] as any number of things,” writes IndieWire’s Steve Greene in a 2017 article naming Fielder’s series the greatest reality TV show ever made. “For those who seize on the small-business angle, it’s a grand treatise on the American dream. For the method actor set, it’s one man’s willingness to put his body and psyche through unspeakable torment for the sake of his craft.”
From the harrowing heights of “The Claw of Shame” to the corporate lambasting of “Dumb Starbucks,” the fearlessness of Fielder (and, presumably, that of the Comedy Central legal team) produced hilarious footage boasting both the strategic brilliance of high-stakes prank performance and the organic chaos that only grows when you’re messing around in the real world.
“No reality TV show has achieved what ‘Nathan for You’ has,” Greene continues, nodding to the series’ pranks routine appearances on local and national news networks. “Using hand-crafted spontaneity not just for its own airtime, but leeching into the public TV world at large, Nathan Fielder’s constant quest for a publicity-generating scheme has taken every tired reality TV trope and reworked it into something magical.”
In honor of “The Rehearsal,” here’s the plan: To revisit and rank the top 13 episodes of “Nathan for You,” including “The Movement,” “Haunted House/The Hunk,” “Finding Frances,” and more.