Nathan For You’s secret weapon is its dense, clever use of sight gags, and perhaps the most reliable of them is the artist renderings that appear when Nathan is initially summarizing his pitch for the client. The illustrations in the first segment of “Hotel/Travel Agent” comprise one of the funniest of those gags to date. It also provides some more breadcrumbs in the mystery that is “Nathan,” a personality so opaque as to stump even A.V. Club matriarch Bonney Teti, one of the few people keen enough to see through the dutiful, conscientious facade to the pure evil of the post office. Nathan For You explores the confounding corners of human psychology, but Nathan is just as willing to offer himself up for armchair psychoanalysis as he is his unwitting participants.
The artist renderings come as part of Nathan’s pitch to Kenny Pang, the owner of Pomona’s Hilltop Suites Hotel, which gets most of its business from itinerant business travelers. Nathan says the real money is in family vacations, so the goal is to implement a plan that would make family vacations more enticing by facilitating sex between the parents while the kids are in the same room. “Right now, the reason why parents don’t want to have sex while on vacation is because their children will see and hear them, leading to permanent developmental damage which can never be repaired,” says Nathan, using illustrations that bear a striking resemblance to our intrepid host.
Nathan’s third season keeps tossing out little clues about how “Nathan” became who he is, like “The Movement” with its reference to the “non-sexual incident” that led to Nathan’s trust issues. This is much more specific, to the extent that with a little more fleshing out, the “Hotel” segment could act as an origin story of sorts. It goes a long way towards explaining Nathan’s simultaneous obsession with and aversion to sex, as if impressionable young Nathan was left in an information vacuum after watching his parents cycle through chapters two through five of the Illustrated Kama Sutra. Perhaps the next morning, everyone silently headed down to enjoy a free continental breakfast with no mention of the night before, so now Nathan poses intrusive sexual questions to the guests in his “Man Zone” or the drunken bros in “Antique Shop.”
Nathan suggests the construction of a “fun isolation box” large enough to fit a teenager inside, which would provide an engaging, safe, soundproof environment for the kids while their ravenous parents are mewling like hungry seals. It’s basically the inverse of the Sex Box. Instead of using soundproofing to keep in the sounds of theoretical baby-making, Nathan’s contraption keeps the sounds out. The concept itself is both hilarious and heartbreakingly naive. The love-starved Nathan is under the impression that family vacations are thwarted by parents’ refusal to put their lovemaking on hold for a few days. Just wait until he finds out that, for many more-or-less happy couples, a week without the expectation of sex or the pressure of initiating it is among the primary selling points of vacationing with your children. But with Pang reluctantly onboard with the pitch, Nathan puts his team to work constructing the box in a segment that could easily be mistaken for an HGTV network promo or a scene from Pimp My Ride.
To test out the Fun Isolation Box (trademark pending), Nathan recruits child actor Bradley, whose parents, Marie and Jurgen, should probably talk through their accounts of what happened should a child protective agency inquire. Nathan brings in adult film performers Holly Heart and Tony Martinez, who proceed to slap and tickle while Bradley is padlocked inside the box with only the sound of Nathan’s decidedly sexual “rainforest sounds.” Nathan frequently takes the opportunity to press someone’s buttons, but this is perhaps the most leverage he’s ever had at his disposal, with Bradley tucked away in the box while Holly and Tony engage in procreative pilates. Nathan brings Jurgen and Marie into the room during the deed, and as a twist of the knife, has the performers call out Jurgen and Marie’s names to make the scenario “more realistic.” “Watch and learn,” says Marie, in an effort to break the tension. It fails, and they file back into the hall leaving their child in the custody of Nathan, some cameramen, and a pair of naked porn stars. Before you judge, Bradley has a button he can push if he’s uncomfortable or wants to come out. So, y’know, that’s something to bear in mind.
The test with just Holly and Tony having sex worked like a charm, so to be extra thorough, Nathan brings in five more adult performers to join Holly and Tony in a seven-person orgy. This is actually a pretty shrewd step to take, because Pang’s sales team has to go into its client meetings well-armed. Would you want to be the sales rep sitting across from the notoriously demanding president of the North American Swing Club Association and not be able to tell him if your Fun Isolation Boxes can withstand the ecstatic moans of more than two participants? Of course you wouldn’t. No one would want that. Well now they can say the boxes work with up to seven participants, making the Hilltop Suites the frontrunner for the coveted NASCA Convention account. Who’s laughing now, Frontage Road La Quinta? Nathan celebrates with Bradley as victory music swells. Pang likes the box until he’s forced to watch the footage of what happened while Bradley was inside. He isn’t quite enthusiastic, but he feels alright about having Nathan leave the box in the lobby.
Nathan’s next struggling business owner is Rose Ilandrian, owner of the travel agency Travelure By Rose. This is probably the Nathan For You segment that needs the least explanation, as anyone with a smartphone knows why a travel agency is no longer a viable business. Nathan figures that since most of Ilandrian’s clients are oldsters who don’t know how to use a computer, they are probably in need of funeral services as well. This is probably Nathan’s most outrageous pitch yet, since it essentially entails changing the business from one thing to another, but it’s brilliant as comedy.
Nathan gets to go undercover as Ilandrian’s husband, pretending to inquire about services for his dying wife while taking detailed notes on the local competition. When Nathan finds out cremation is increasingly popular, he has to find out how to get Ilandrian access to a reasonably priced cremation oven. (He fails to mention to Ilandrian that he envisions her doing the wet work herself.) He comes up with a pizza oven as the next best option, then heads to Burbank Pizzeria and Pasta to test it out. In yet another amazing sight gag, Nathan shows up with his anatomically correct dough-and-meat dummy (which I’m calling Calzone Cal) fully dressed including a leather belt, a wig, and a pair of glasses. The test is cut short, but Nathan is assured that a pizza oven could work for his macabre purposes.
The best (meaning most awkward) part of the segment comes when Ilandrian has to pitch the funeral services for the first time. What makes this segment so fascinating is that by injecting the fear of mortality into a travel agency, he has taken Ilandrian from helping people with the plans they relish making to helping them with the plans they’d sooner not think about at all. Ilandrian can’t muster the verve to adequately sell the funeral services “I’m sorry I’m telling you this one, we offer funeral packages,” she says. Her white-haired female client, who has just expressed an interest in returning to Sin City, says she’ll take it under advisement.
Following the awkward exchange, Ilandrian tells Nathan she has to be passionate about what she’s selling, and funeral packages aren’t her jam. But she’s just as sweet as she can be in letting him down, and they part on unusually friendly terms, with Nathan even leaning in to give Ilandrian a peck on the cheek. While they were in the nursing home, Nathan gently kisses Ilandrian’s shoulder, and she doesn’t so much as flinch. In the same episode that explains Nathan’s psychosexual weirdness comes the most relatively consensual female contact that isn’t within the context of an in-world film or TV project. If Nathan plays his cards right, he and Ilandrian might wind up needing to use the very same fancy coffin he left in the lobby of the Hilltop Suites.
The third segment is a change-of-pace in a season that has been characterized by full-episode ideas. It’s been a while since Nathan For You did a C-story introduces by a brief interstitial segment between the A and B stories, and Nathan’s Gridlock Rescue concept is the most robust and emotional one yet. Nathan decides to scale up his technique of having two unpaid interns trail his car on a motorcycle so he can quickly jump on the bike instead should he run into some of Los Angeles’ legendary gridlock. The C-story is often the receptacle for Nathan’s more untenable concepts, but Gridlock Rescue is sort-of, kind-of a half-decent idea. If not for the prohibitive insurance issues, Uber could launch a motorcycle service to take advantage of the legality of lane-splitting in California and make a killing. Also, it’s not the sort of thing that can be sold through a cold call, as Nathan’s biker pals Shawn and Laura find out when they knock on a few windows but fail to sell the service.
Nathan’s superpower is his ability to get people genuinely invested in his vision, no matter how glaringly stupid or unworkable it is. Pang, after politely balking at Nathan’s idea, gets enthusiastic about discussing potential features for the child’s play-coffin. He pretty much came up with the ‘60s space-race theme on his own: “It could have little flashlights, little stars that go off at night.” Then he convinces Shawn and Laura Gridlock Rescue is such a good idea, it could be viably pitched to an aggravated motorist with the potential customer thinking they’re being carjacked by Emily Post. “People are so scared, afraid of the unknown,” says Laura, after their sales efforts veer close to physical altercations. Nathan calls them hypocrites after they rebuff his offer to join them for crab legs. But Nathan should really be thankful for all the affection—or at least the lack of palpable repulsion—from Ilandrian. It can’t make up for the childhood trauma he suffered at a Canadian Howard Johnson, but it’s a start.
- “If you’re a traveling businessman visiting Pomona, California, chances are you’ll stay at the iconic Hilltop Hotel.” That opening line gives me serious pause. It’s because of the word “iconic,” which is said while the visual is an establishing shot of the not particularly iconic-looking Hilltop Suites. There’s an explanation that works within the show’s comic voice, perhaps that Nathan overinflates the status of the people he helps to make himself feel more important for helping them. But it here it reads a bit sarcastic, and Nathan For You becomes a very different kind of show if it comes across as if Nathan is mocking the businesses themselves.
- They really lucked out with those parents because the name Jurgen is just kind of phonetically hilarious on its own.
- The “Travel Agent” segment features a fun callback in the form of “Klein’s disease,” the mysterious immunodeficiency disease mentioned in season one’s “Haunted House/The Hunk.”
- If Nathan used lean meats and low-fat cheese in his cadaver, then that makes the Burbank Pizzeria a low-cal Calzone Cal Zone.
- I’m always fascinated by who and how Nathan For You credits its “featuring” players. In this episode, the two business owners are credited, along with the seven adult performers in the hotel experiment, but no one else. I assume that has to do with how the releases are executed. (I’m mostly mentioning this because I’m not sure Shawn and Laura spell their names that way.)
- Let’s pretend none of us have seen the episode and have a caption contest for the featured screen grab. I’ll go first: “No one’s saying our community theater adaptation of Interstellar was perfect, but it was faithful to the story and had a lot of heart.”