From a structural standpoint, Nathan For You is to ultra high-concept comedic performance art as A&E’s The First 48 is to homicide investigation. Both shows typically pivot between two distinct and equally weighted stories, creating a synergistic effect as the stories crescendo, then drop off abruptly after reaching their natural conclusions. The dual structure creates a satisfying density and a feeling of value, such that the typical episode feels like it has told way more story than the runtime should allow. Both shows also occasionally ditch the usual structure and fill the episode with a single story when it’s significant or hearty enough to justify doing so. “The Movement” makes Nathan For You’s third exception to the rule, following the paradigm-shifting “Dumb Starbucks” and this season’s equally anti-corporate “Electronics Store.” It also may become known as the point at which Nathan Fielder truly broke bad.
Nathan hasn’t yet risen to the level of an antiheroic criminal mastermind, but it’s looking more and more like his evolution will take him from an awkward but likeable small-business consultant with evil-genius ideas to a sociopathic con man, and “The Movement” represents a turning point in that story. “The Movement” doesn’t match the grandeur of “Dumb Starbucks” and “Electronics Store,” and it’s not nearly as successful an episode as either of them. But inasmuch as Nathan For You is a character study, “The Movement” is equally significant as those episodes despite not being at their level of quality.
“The Movement” works as a companion piece to the complementary “Electronics Store,” which represents the “Dumb Starbucks” yin to this episode’s “Dumb Starbucks” yang. The Dumb Starbucks stunt targeted a gargantuan corporate entity and garnered a significant amount of straight-faced media coverage in the process, and nothing Nathan has done since has achieved that rare combination. The Best Buy price-matching stunt drew the ire of a major corporate entity—one of its locations, at least—but no news media showed up to document the onerous path to nearly-free home electronics. “The Movement” gets a considerable amount of attention from local news media in several markets, but there’s no soulless corporation feeling the brunt of Nathan’s assault. The villain in “The Movement” is, essentially, the living wage.
Nathan meets with David Sassounian, the owner of a Los Angeles-based moving company called City Of Angels. Naturally, David’s largest business expense is labor, the cost of hiring buff guys to schlep people’s personal items from Point A to Point B. Nathan’s idea is to slash those labor costs by positioning the work of lifting heavy items as the next workout craze, so David can not only eliminate his labor costs, he can actually charge his new movers as their personal trainer. David is skeptical, but not nearly skeptical enough.
The best Nathan For You episodes are those with schemes that are harebrained and absurd, but conceptually ingenious in their own way and realistically viable. The idea behind “The Movement” could never work practically for a litany of reasons, so the episode doesn’t work quite as well as it should either. Under ideal circumstances, such an arrangement would displace the employees who depend on those jobs and open City Of Angels up to a liability flood between the moving customers and the up-and-coming fitness buffs, who would be considered employees with rights by any judge in the country . That’s to say nothing of the incredibly shady tactics Nathan uses to push the narrative he needs to promote The Movement.
It’s also not among Nathan’s more creative ideas. For years, UPS and FedEx have wooed employees with the promise of a fat-torching workout with a paycheck attached to it. And who knows how many fitness books have attempted to make fitness more approachable by emphasizing the quotidian tasks people have to do anyway. The idea that moving heavy crap is a workout isn’t especially revelatory. Were “The Movement” a stand-alone special rather than one episode of a series, it would work as a cynical indictment of the celebrity fitness industrial complex. But it would rank low on any respectable list of Nathan’s shrewdest schemes.
The Movement is a terrible idea, which are fighting words in the whimsical world of Nathan For You, but it makes for a funny story even though it’s among Nathan’s least sustainable ideas. This idea has to catch on fast, so as he often does, Nathan utilizes viral celebrity as the quickest and easiest path to the promotion he needs to attract David’s new low-cost workforce. He orders a stack of personality-backed fitness books and concludes The Movement needs its own charismatic spokesperson. Nathan figures he can do the job himself, and imagine his surprise upon seeing the less-than-exciting outcome of his photo shoot.
Nathan sends him team out in search of their new spokesperson and turns up Jack Garbarino, a bodybuilder who continues Nathan’s track record for finding people who look like the walking embodiment of post-traumatic stress. But for all the woe in his face, Jack is a happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic guy who would love nothing more than to reinvent his life as the new Billy Blanks or Shaun T. He’s so eager to represent The Movement, the specifics of the program seem irrelevant to him. He barely bats a lash when Nathan photographs an overweight lookalike to pose as pre-Movement Jack and creates marketing materials claiming Jack has never so much as set foot inside a gym.
Jack is even on board for adopting the alternate identity created for him by Austin Bowers, a copy writer Nathan hired to flesh out an autobiographical account of how Jack beat back obesity with a hand truck. To gauge his qualifications, Nathan asks Austin to come up with a sentence to demonstrate his writing style. Austin responds with what sounds like the rapturous opening salvo of the next big YA sensation:
The candles flickered, the sheets were still, but all the energy in the room surrounded Roman and Kenzie. Kenzie stepped forth and gently touched Roman’s arm. He suddenly felt weak, and trembled, and fell, as if his Achilles heel had been struck by a blade, but all it was was simply a woman’s touch.
Nathan’s sharpest weapon is his ability to resist breaking, but even he’s pushed to his limits by Austin’s expressive prose, and he comes about as close to cracking up as he’s ever been.
Armed with Austin’s fast-tracked book based on Jack’s pretend life, Nathan does what he does best. He reaches out to local news media and pushes Jack onto the regional morning show circuit. This is Nathan, the character, as his most fascinating. He’s almost like the Michael Scott of small-business consultants. He’s full of ideas, and for every four asinine ones there’s one solid one, but that’s not a solid enough success rate to compensate for his obliviousness and profound lack of people skills. Say what you will about the soundness of Nathan’s ideas, but it’s impossible to deny his skill at getting attention. He’s the best-worst, worst-best publicist of all time. Jack lands a series of morning show appearances, and with a chilling ease, he adopts the persona created for him by Austin, which includes a close childhood friendship with Steve Jobs and a rich history of volunteer work with “jungle children.”
Considering The Movement requires outright fabrication and tricks average people into providing free labor under false pretenses, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before there’s an appearance from Nathan For You regular Anthony Filosa, the former judge Nathan relies on to tell him when he tips from quasi-fraud over into actual fraud. Alas, Judge Filosa never appears, and Nathan is unbothered by the legal ramifications of the plan. The looming threat of physical injury makes this a far more risky scheme than season two’s souvenir shop scam, but Nathan goes all in without a second thought. Near the end of the episode, he introduces Jack to David to connect the key players in The Movement. “Anytime you need new movers, Jack can go on the news, lie to everyone in America, and you’ll get a fresh batch of people willing to move houses for free,” says Nathan to David before breezing out and leaving the men trapped in an awkward conversation. Ultimately, Nathan is just an agent of chaos with a subscription to Fast Company.
- While the idea of moving as alternative fitness is not that great idea, calling it The Movement is pretty brilliant. From Lululemon to CrossFit to OrangeTheory, the most successful fitness movements stress dogma and conformity just like a cult.
- It’s pretty amazing how easily Jack slips into his persona. He requires nearly no prompting before he starts talking about how he and Steve Jobs will childhood besties.
- Jack: “Jungle children are children who live in the jungle.”
- Nathan, after learning Jack isn’t using his makeshift storage locker gym: “I have major trust issues stemming from a non-sexual incident that happened when I was a child.”
- There’s no Filosa this episode, but there is the return of Brian Wolfe, the verbally abusive private investigator with whom Nathan shares a prickly working relationship. Adding to his mythology, he apparently appeared in a softcore porn spread in Penthouse, and regrets divorcing before his youngest child graduated high school.