Nathan Fielder watches a customer crawl through a tiny door that supposedly leads to huge bargains. (Photo: Comedy Central)

“Electronics Store” is a great choice for the Nathan For You season premiere because it incorporates so many of the show’s well-worn tactics—which brings first-time viewers up to speed—but raises some of them to new heights to surprise existing fans. This tale of dubious discounts, legal saber-rattling, and romantic subterfuge ranks among the most involved endeavors that Nathan Fielder and his production team have yet devised.

It’s remarkable how much story the show packs into its 22-minute runtime this week. What’s more impressive is that even as the scheme spirals further out from its original idea—which was funny enough on its own—“Electronics Store” maintains a thread of logic through it all. That’s one of Nathan’s best tricks: He patiently lays out the reasoning for each step in his process, so everything makes sense as you move along. Then, at the end of an episode, you’re left wondering how the hell you ended up here.

If it’s any consolation, Alan Harikian knows how you feel. He’s the owner of Speers TV, the electronics store that Nathan seeks to rescue from the scourge of the national chain Best Buy. It’s a classic “stand up for the little guy” scenario, one that aims to turn Best Buy’s aggressive competitive practices against itself. Nathan’s plan is for Harikian to advertise a sale on Samsung televisions that prices the TV sets at $1. Then Nathan will send buyers to Best Buy, Speers flyers in hand, to demand that the mega-chain honor its “price match” policy. After scooping up a raft of $1 TVs, Harikian will be able sell them in his own store at a nearly 100 percent profit margin.

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After laying out this scenario, Nathan asks Harikian, “Are you in a relationship?” The humble shopkeep registers this as a non sequitur. Seasoned Nathan For You fans recognize it as a friendly trap—a patch of emotional quicksand that draws Harikian further into Nathan’s world. “I’m not in a relationship, either,” Nathan says, “so we can both work on this full-time.” The exchange also speaks to a central element of the show’s approach, which is to mix business with personal matters. “It’s not business, it’s personal” has practically been an American mantra since Vito Corleone uttered a version of that phrase in The Godfather four decades ago. We take the dehumanization of the corporate sphere as a given. But Nathan For You rehumanizes it, operating on the purposely naive notion that people are people, corporate trappings be damned.

Even with Best Buy in the crosshairs, there remains the thorny matter of Speers TV making good on its own television-for-a-buck ads. To solve this problem, we get a variation on the principle applied in the first season’s gas station rebate scheme: Make it staggeringly inconvenient for customers to redeem the promised deal. Nathan is just aping the habits of major retailers, who adorn their loss-leading mega-deals with stipulations and corollaries that make it nigh impossible to get a true bargain. He’s simply more innovative about it.

Nathan stashes the TVs in a back room, puts an alligator in that room, adds a tiny anteroom that can only be entered through a tiny door, and institutes a black tie dress code for good measure. Is it a bit mean to laugh at the guy who, clad in formal wear, crawls on his hands and knees through the Willy Wonka door—only to find a vicious reptile between him and cheap high-definition glory? Sure, it’s a bit mean. But I still like seeing how much people will humiliate themselves to satiate their consumer greed.

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The buyers recruited by Nathan after a rigorous interview process (“Are you good at buying things?”) run into an inevitable brick wall when they brandish the Speers flyers and demand that Best Buy honor its Price Match Guarantee. Nathan makes no headway when—still wearing his tuxedo—he arrives and takes the Best Buy staffers to task. It’s no surprise that Best Buy calls shenanigans on the whole affair, but their squirrelly insistence that they are following the letter of their policy gives the scene an added charge.

The Best Buy folks are so determined to prove themselves right that even when Nathan makes a laughably toothless threat—“I’m going to count to three, and if you don’t do it by the time I get to three, I’m going to leave, okay?”—they continue to press their case. All they have to do is stand there for three seconds, and their nightmare will be over. Instead they keep arguing with Nathan, even as he counts! He may not succeed in purchasing a $1 TV, but he’s in their heads.

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At the halfway point, the episode pivots from a battle in the consumer world to a hypothetical showdown in the realm of law as Nathan attempts to lay the groundwork for a lawsuit against Best Buy. Nathan decides that, to protect Harikian from the chain’s mighty legal reprisal, he will establish documentation for an insanity defense.

The reasoning here is awfully thin—a transparent setup for the next gag—and the show tacitly acknowledges the shaky premise with a shot of Nathan looking up “insanity defense” on Wikipedia, his favorite research resource. The subtextual message is that Nathan’s getting sloppy as his passion overcomes his sense. That’s the flexibility of the Nathan character at work. He can be shrewd, like when he’s citing chapter and verse of the Price Match Guarantee to recalcitrant Best Buy employees. And he can be misguided, like when he’s preparing an irrelevant insanity defense for a hopeless, nonexistent civil suit. The duality doesn’t undermine the character so much as it makes him more human, which is a convenient side effect.

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Besides, a little bullshit is a fair trade for the glorious scene that plays out at the offices of Dr. Judy Rosenberg, whom Nathan recruits to clinically certify Harikian as nuts. The joke here is so elegant that, in retrospect, it’s almost surprising that Fielder hasn’t stumbled on it before. After prepping Rosenberg to expect a mental case, Nathan simply has Harikian describe, in matter-of-fact terms, the events that have transpired in his shop since Nathan arrived. Here’s what Harikian says:

We did this thing where, you know, we put an alligator inside a small door. A small room, basically, with a small door. And we would have customers coming in to get a $1 TV, basically. So, and, the only thing they had to do was go—have, basically, a dress code. We had a dress code. So you have to be dressed nicely. Maybe a suit, tie, nice shoes.

“Read the writing on the wall,” Rosenberg says later, “Alligators, little doors. I’m seeing psychosis.” The joke is not just that Rosenberg deems Harikian insane—the joke is also that Harikian doesn’t find his own words insane. That’s how deeply he’s been pulled into Nathan’s world.

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Retired judge Anthony Filosa, a Nathan For You favorite, makes an appearance here in his familiar role as legal advisor. Filosa’s segment plays out the usual way. He starts out discouraging Nathan’s latest scheme to exploit the court system, yet by the time Nathan leaves, Filosa has provided him some glimmer of legal hope that fuels Nathan’s next move.

That next move here is to invent a fake reality show called Retail Dating to ensnare a Best Buy employee who can snitch on the store’s shady practices. A bumbling Nathan date ensues (this episode really ticks all the Nathan For You checkboxes), with the host posing as an emo Hot Topic manager. Elle is unimpressed with Nathan’s magic show—“I think I’ve seen that before,” she says by way of a review. But she gives him the inside scoop he desires on Best Buy’s capricious application of its Price Match Guarantee, although she affirms Nathan’s suspicions in the vaguest possible language. When Nathan sets up a second date to ask if she’ll testify in court, a creeped-out Elle declines, saying, “For all I know, you’re crazy.” This makes Elle our Utterly Sensible Nathan For You Participant Of The Week.

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As the lawsuit falls apart and Nathan realizes that he got a little too worked up about the whole affair—as is his wont—he decides to atone for his sins by introducing Harikian to Cathy, another Retail Dating applicant. In Nathan’s mind, he has solved Harikian’s relationship woes in one fell swoop. The new couple’s first interaction is about as friendly as you could expect for two strangers who were introduced in haste by a socially inept reality show host. Compared to Nathan’s painful encounters with Elle, though, Cathy and Alan Harikian’s “date” feels like easygoing romantic bliss. Without that contrast, Nathan’s matchmaking would feel inconsequential, but thanks to Nathan setting a low bar for first-date social graces, it almost feels like there’s some hope for this fledgling couple. Once again, Nathan’s awkwardness ultimately makes the people around him seem more warm and genuine—a key dynamic of Nathan For You’s comedy.

Stray observations

  • I often wonder whether the businesspeople who participate in Nathan For You end up benefitting from their appearance on the show even if Nathan’s plans rarely pay direct dividends. I mean, if I lived in the Los Angeles area and needed a new television, I’d be inclined to look up Speers TV after watching this episode. But I’m probably in a minority of consumers who make buying decisions based on their favorite comedy reality shows.
  • Along the same lines: Nathan For You is helped by the fact that it films in Los Angeles, where you can find people in every profession who will unquestioningly ply their trade in exchange for some TV face time. Dr. Judy Rosenberg, a self-described “media psychologist,” is only too eager to write up poor Alan Harikian as a delusional psychotic if it will please her camera-having buddy Nathan.
  • In an attempt to avoid confusion, I’m continuing a convention I established in last season’s Nathan For You reviews: When I’m referring to Nathan Fielder the character, I’ll refer to him just as “Nathan,” and when I’m referencing him as the real-world creator of the show, I’ll call him “Fielder.”
  • From Rosenberg’s website: “By helping people identify their problem and dismantle it, Dr. Judy helps patients paradigm shift from the problem into the solution.” Freud couldn’t have put it better himself.
  • In the mock courtroom segment where Nathan suborns perjury from his team of buyers, we see him install a mannequin judge to enhance the realism of the setting. But the attention to detail extends further than that—for a couple of seconds at the end of the scene, you can catch a glimpse of the jury box, which has been similarly filled with fake people (each with their own outfit, no less).

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