The Nathan Fielder of Nathan For You doesn’t have a way with words in a general sense, but he wields one word with surgical precision: okay. Nathan says “Okay” quite a bit in “Sporting Goods Store/Antique Shop,” particularly in the first segment, and each reading is a shade different than the one that came before. He has an “okay” for every occasion. There’s one that means “If you insist,” another that means “If you really insist,” and another that means “I call bullshit, but we’ve got a television show to make.” Nathan’s array of okay is actually a pretty neat encapsulation of Nathan For You, the comedy equivalent of the Milgram experiment. Under the right circumstances, people will acquiesce to any authoritative command.

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Occasionally, Nathan gets pushback from the proprietors he partners with, like the dating website owner who called Nathan out as sexist and condescending for proposing they revolutionize the industry with his “Daddy’s Watching” membership upgrade. Often, as in “The Movement,” the owner is fine with whatever Nathan wants to do, so long as they’ve politely gone on record as saying Nathan has come up with a stupid idea that probably won’t be successful. Nathan is most adept at psychological warfare, so he can usually gaslight his partners into cooperating with just about anything, but it’s amazing how infrequently he has to take it that far. Neither of the participants in “Sporting Goods Store/Antique Shop” pushes back even slightly. They just say okay, and not in the subtext-laden way Nathan says it. They seem legitimately amenable to suggestions that are as weird and impractical as anything he’s ever come up with.

The first lucky recipient of Nathan’s business advice is Nicolas Orellano, the owner of soccer equipment store Niky’s Sports and an avid smartphone user. Nathan is good for wielding awkward silences to his advantage, and it’s kind of endearing to see that he can take a taste of his own medicine. He’s ready to pitch his idea, but he has to wait. Not until Nicolas has finished texting, or checking his bank balance, or using weaponized plants to protect his home from zombies, or evaluating the new talent on Tinder will he lend Nathan his full attention. Nathan certainly deserves Nicolas’ full attention for this idea, which involves signing youth soccer players to dirt-cheap endorsement deals in the hopes that one of them becomes the next David Beckham. Like all of Nathan’s schemes, there’s a certain clumsy logic to it, but it’s also ridiculous on its face, if only because it can’t possibly pay off for a minimum of 10 years. Nicolas is just fine with it, even as Nathan creepily implies he might die before the Wheaties cross-promotion happens.

The fusillade of okays comes after a segment I fear will one day be used in a criminal proceeding, in which Nathan attends a youth soccer game and identifies the players with the most potential. He sizes them up, measures them, and photographs them, then takes the dossier to Cornelius, a purported age-progression specialist he found on Craigslist. What that probably means, since there’s no shot of Nathan posting the ad, is that the producers put out a call for Photoshop experts or graphic designers, then drilled down to find someone claiming to be skilled in age progression. Cornelius seems like a lovely human being, but an age progression expert he is not. Maybe he needs the cash and lives by the motto “Fake it ‘til you make it.” That’s the most comforting explanation for what would lead someone to composite these horrific manbabies, which really should have come after a disclaimer of some kind.

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Nathan placates Cornelius, despite having understandable reservations about the work he’s seen, but the “progressions” are enough for Nathan to determine that young Sasha is the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, Sasha is keen on being an astronaut, so Nathan enlists his gun-toting Santa pal James Bailey to join the operation. James plays a sad spaceman whose suit doesn’t weigh nearly as heavily on him as the grief and regret he’s racked up during his years on the NASA grind. In the same disturbingly soothing voice he used to convince children that a Doink-It was the only way to demonstrate which Freudian stage they’re at, James convinces Sasha that the only way to keep his loved ones safe is to stay out of the space race. The great thing about Nathan For You is the frequency of dialogue you’d never hear anywhere else, and probably would never exist if not for this show. I can’t imagine any other circumstances under which a child would try to wrap his brain around anti-astronaut sentiment by comparing it to racial discrimination in the Jim Crow south. It doesn’t matter how Sasha processed it, only that he was mostly dissuaded from a life in space.

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With Nathan’s $250 endorsement deals for Niky’s in place, he turns his attention to Long Beach-area antiques store Magnolia And Willow, which is situated near several watering holes. The store presently closes at 6 p.m., but Nathan figures if the store starts staying open 24 hours a day, it’ll lure drunk patrons who will inadvertently break things, thereby triggering the store’s “you break it, you buy it” policy. It’s another classic Nathan pitch, speciously logical but also profoundly ridiculous. But it sounds reasonable enough to Magnolia And Willow owner Emily Yep, whose name is such an on-the-nose indication of her agreeability, she could be an Edgar Allan Poe character.

Nathan needs a volunteer to provide proof of concept, so after rearranging the store for maximum breakability and sweetening the pot with free pizza and the promise of a costume party, he heads off to a nearby bar to enlist the help of a clumsy drunk. He finds J.J., an affable bro with a relationship with alcohol such that his roommates wrote down their address on a sheet of paper and stuck it in his pocket in case he was disoriented and in need of a ride home. J.J. helps Nathan prove the viability of the concept by trying to shimmy down an impossibly narrow corridor in a sumo suit to get to the free pizza, which is a sentence I still can’t believe I’m typing. Emily makes a $280 sale and she’s about as pleased with Nathan’s work as his clients usually are.

The surprise comes when Nathan takes J.J. home, which is the least he can do after getting J.J. drunk enough to possibly need that handwritten dog tag after all. On the way, J.J. regales Nathan about his freaky-deaky sex life, which includes threesomes, foursomes, and moresomes with his down-to-clown brother. Nathan, who was very recently luring bored boyfriends into his “Man Zone,” is delighted to be in the company of bros, but he’s as perplexed as he is intrigued. It’s a weird place to find some male camaraderie, but after dealing with Nicolas, who couldn’t even be bothered to look up from his phone, Nathan was ready to take what he could get.

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Stray observations:

  • Kudos to the locations manager responsible for facilitating the second segment. I imagine that email was like, “Hey, can you find a small antiques store within walking distance of a shitload of bars?”
  • The shot of Nathan and Emily talking in the store was fantastic, and they went out of their way to find the biggest possible chair for her and the smallest possible chair for him.
  • Great to see the return of James Bailey, and I generally love that there’s such a deliberate effort to bring in familiar faces.
  • This is one of those episodes in which Nathan comes up with something truly ingenious in service of a harebrained scheme. The liquor swapping jacket attachment is a marketable product.

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