Posts Tagged ‘finding frances’

Disclaimer: Mild spoilers for Season 4 Finale.

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“Don’t be sad, be happy for me.”

“My name is Nathan Fielder and I graduated from one of Canada’s top business school with really good grades.” is how Nathan Fielder introduces himself before each episode of his cult docu-reality show Nathan For You which has been airing on Comedy Central since 2013. He offers struggling small businesses assistance in exchange for nothing but the permission to record the unscripted hilarity that ensues to create installments of this uniquely preposterous show.

The above premise sound harmless and if you have not watched the show you would be fair to assume that it’s another wacky prank show where the host (and us, the viewers) have fun at the expense of the helpless business owners who simply expect a weird stranger with a camera crew to help them grow their business but things get interesting when Nathan reveals the solutions to achieve the same.

Saying that these ideas are outlandish doesn’t even begin to cover the magnificent bizarreness of this show which is often described as an extremely difficult watch for you don’t really know if you are being a sadomasochist when you laugh at all these innocent people ‘getting help’ from a (sometimes) lying, manipulating Nathan who wouldn’t stop at anything to service his craft. This man is borderline psychotic when it comes to committing to an idea, and I mean it as a compliment of the highest order.

To start with, in the S01 pilot, he tries to help a Yogurt parlor by introducing a new ‘Poo’ flavored yogurt to get people talking about the yogurt shop.

From here on, it just gets insaner with this man pulling gobsmackingly brave stunts, like inventing a robotic claw of shame that would pull his pants down in front of a bunch of kids and render him a registered sex offender if he isn’t able to uncuff himself within 90 seconds! (S01E07),

or re-branding an LA realtor as a ‘Ghost Realtor’ (S02E01) who ends up having a seizure upon being exorcised by a demon hunter!,

or leveraging a legal loophole called “Parody Law” to launch a Dumb Starbucks to help a local coffee shop! (S02E05, the stand-out episode which got Nathan global fame.),

or manufacturing his own ‘a cop pulled me over’ talk-show story and making sure that he is not lying when he narrates it on Kimmel for the promotion of his own show (how Meta!). [S04, Anecdote, changes everything you ever believed about Talk show anecdotes and leaves you unable to trust these pop culture vignettes ever again].

There are comedians who tell jokes, there are comedians who act jokes/sketches, and then there is Nathan Fielder who is awkwardness/cringe/deadpan all rolled into a human form. He conjures up insanely farcical ideas and commits himself fully over to the flawless execution of them even if that means that he has to train for nine months to LEARN TO WALK A TIGHTROPE between two seven-story rooftops while pretending to be SOMEONE ELSE, which he miraculously accomplished in Season 3 finale (aptly titled The Hero) two years ago. At that time, I genuinely thought that this would be his swan song and nothing he does next will be able to top this episode but then I saw Finding Frances, the S04 Finale.

During the above super amusing retelling of the Talk Show story on Meyers’ show, Nathan humbly compared himself to The Beatles, and I super-humbly disagree with that. He isn’t The Beatles. He is the freaking Beethoven of comedy and Finding Frances is not one bit less great than Symphony №9. Just like Beethoven’s compositions, each of his immensely WTF, carefully thought-through and meticulously crafted episodes are masterpieces, but Finding Frances is such a precious, almost-philosophical, (and mostly UNSCRIPTED!) study of regret, love, false identity, and above all, kindness that Nathan can now legit be called an auteur.

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‘You are one decision away from having a completely different life.’

This feature-length episode documents Nathan helping Bill Heath, a professional Bill Gates impersonator with whom he’s previously worked in Season 2 (E02, Souvenir Shop), find his long-lost love, Frances Gaddy. Bill is a 78 year old lonely man who admittedly left Frances for a career in Hollywood 60 years ago, never married, and is now regretting the decision. Nathan, upon seeing this man‘s agony, embarks on an ambitious quest to find Frances which leads him to Arkansas, Bill’s hometown.

In Arkansas, among other hilarious attempts to find Frances, he poses as a member of the crew for Mud 2: Never Clean (a made-up sequel to Mud, which was shot at Frances’ alma mater, Dumas high school) to stealthily obtain the 1957 yearbook which might help them get a clue about Frances’ whereabouts. He even organizes a 57 year reunion for her batch, in hopes that her old classmates might offer a clue or two, but all his efforts elicit zero returns.

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We have seen Nathan interacting with women in a perfectly normal, non-creepy, not at all awkward fashion in earlier seasons, so things take a very interesting turn when around the halfway mark, Nathan hires an escort, Maci, for Bill to just talk to (only talking, no touching). Bill still refuses to meet her (“You gotta know what you’re sticking it in”) despite Nathan telling him about the No Touching clause. Since her time is already paid for, Nathan decides to meet her himself and instantly falls for her infectious bubbly laugh.

Over the next hour, we see both these men grapple with their loneliness while they look for love in unexpected places. One old, who regrets not being able to hold on to something that could have changed the course of his life, and one young, who doesn’t have anything to hold onto in his life except his elaborate pranks.

Does Nathan see Bill as a cautionary tale? Is he scared that he too would end up a lonely man who got so busy chasing his dreams that he did not have anyone to share the success with when he finally achieved it?

Nathan has a lot of free time in Arkansas which he spends visiting bars and watching TV. He calls Maci again to hang out with him. She agrees because at $350/hour, Nathan isn’t bad company.

After a few meetings, Maci asks Nathan if he would like to see her in a more private setting. He agrees and invites her to his hotel room. The juxtaposition of the tenderness of the above moment with ‘WTF am I seeing? hilarity of the next, an ultra cringe-worthy kiss between these two is what makes this show absolutely one of its kind. Nathan, whose TV personality is a mildly amplified version of his real self, is at his most vulnerable when he is with Maci (or is he?). Given that he also directed this episode, his willingness to put himself in these excruciatingly uncomfortable moments and to not edit them out is what sets him apart from his peers. He wears his awkwardness on his sleeve with pride.

As the episode progresses, we find out that Bill is a flawed man. He hasn’t been completely honest with Nathan about his history with Frances. He is a Trump supporter (the episode was shot before the election results) and an entirely different man (read borderline creep) around women. Despite all these revelations, Nathan refuses to back off and goes out of his way to see the regret-filled human side of this old man who is pining for closure. THAT is what makes this episode so much more special than anything Nathan has done so far.

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This thesis-worthy documentary, brimming with compassion and a steady undercurrent of loneliness, blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Is Nathan really falling for Maci, or is he pretending because it’s great material? Does Maci also feel the same for him or is it just the money that keeps bringing her back? Did Bill really love Frances or is he just a desperate old poser?

Errol Morris, the revered documentary filmmaker, answers these questions in his beautiful New Yorker piece where he calls it his new favorite exploration of love.

Bill’s arc closes with an incredibly symbolic ‘Bee hunt’ and during the final two minutes of the episode, we become aware of the surprising level of depth Nathan and Maci’s relationship has acquired when Maci finally acknowledges the cameras and this exchange happens,

Maci: “It’s kinda weird having cameras around, right?”

Nathan: “We could turn them off if you want.”

Maci: “Could we?”

Nathan: “Do you want to?”

Maci: “I feel like that… Does that defeat the purpose?”

Nathan: “Of what?”

Maci: “I don’t know.”

Nathan: “What’s the purpose?”

Maci: “You’re filming something. That’s kinda the purpose, right?

He momentarily looks at the camera as if toying with the idea of ‘FADE TO BLACK’ (which still would have been a great ending) but then, decides to use the drone the production crew has to capture a cool aerial shot. A masterful split-second decision that manages to separate us from them and serves his artistic ambition as well.

As the drone flies up and far above and we see them holding hands, surrounded by the camera crew, I couldn’t help but marvel at the incredible genius of this man who could either be the loneliest artist who has created 2017’s singularly greatest work of reality TV or the biggest poker-faced troll of our generation.

Something we will never be able to know.

– Avinash Verma

(Avinash‘ full time job is to watch movies and in his free time he pretends to be a Digital Marketeer. He occasionally writes on Medium as well.)