Nathan for You began airing in 2013 and ended in 2017 after a consistently high-quality four-season run, with a total of 32 episodes. This makes it a regrettably brief show for those who love its particular brand of social commentary, cringe comedy, and surprising emotional depth, but it highlights quality over quantity, above all. And it’s not like its creator, Nathan Fielder, has stopped making things since, what with 2022’s The Rehearsal and then 2023’s The Curse.
Nathan for You is a TV show that blurs the line between reality and artifice, simultaneously making viewers wonder what’s real and what isn’t, all the while being hilarious and awkward in equal measure. It follows Fielder as he gives struggling businesses ridiculous and unusual ideas to improve their earnings, with the 10 best episodes of the show, according to IMDb users, being ranked below.
- Release Date
- February 28, 2013
- Nathan Fielder
- Main Genre
12 “The Claw of Shame” (Season 1, Episode 7)
IMDb Rating: 8.6/10
Those who don’t particularly enjoy cringe comedy might want to steer clear of Nathan for You, because much of the cringe TV show’s humor is notoriously uncomfortable. However, even those who can tolerate cringe comedy might find some of the show’s episodes to be difficult to watch, given how far Nathan Fielder is willing to push things. This is remarkably apparent in “The Claw of Shame,” an early episode in the show overall that demonstrates Fielder’s willingness to really push some boundaries.
It’s an episode that largely revolves around a single stunt Nathan Fielder attempts to pull off, taking the focus away from partly (though not entirely) from his business schemes. The stunt involves Fielder having to escape from a device that will remove his pants, which in turn would expose him in front of a bunch of children, making him a sex offender. Of course, he does so willingly and has to get legal advice about what would and wouldn’t constitute a crime with intent in the very specific situation he’s come up with, making “The Claw of Shame” somewhat eye-opening, alongside being uncomfortably funny and surprisingly suspenseful.
11 “Santa/Petting Zoo” (Season 1, Episode 2)
IMDb Rating: 8.7/10
As far as Christmas-themed episodes go, none are quite as effective for Nathan for You as “Santa/Petting Zoo.” Nathan Fielder attempts to help a struggling petting zoo by staging an elaborate viral video, and it’s arguably one of his most successful ideas, given the Nathan for You episode was even picked up by some news channels at the time. Some of the episode is also about preventing graffiti, and then of course there’s Fielder’s interactions with the titular Santa.
That portion of the episode is all about trying to get a department store Santa work during the non-winter months, but things get complicated once Fielder learns about elements of the man’s past. This early season 1 episode does a great job of combining three entertaining segments into one episode, and though none stand out due to the time being shared between them, they all prove incredibly funny in their own ways.
10 “The Movement” (Season 3, Episode 3)
IMDb Rating: 9.0/10
While many Nathan for You episodes contain two to three schemes, many of its most iconic episodes devote an entire half-hour to just one. This is the case for Season 3’s “The Movement,” which has one of Fielder’s wildest yet most oddly clever plans involving getting laborers to move things for free by making it seem like a new fitness craze.
This craze is dubbed “The Movement” and gets elaborate enough to the point where Fielder gets a spokesperson named Jack Garbarino and has an entire fabricated “autobiography” written about how he got fit without going to the gym. Even better: The Movement is a real book, showing Fielder’s impeccable commitment to the bit. It takes the sort of “just wild enough to work” feeling of many episodes in the show and represents it better than most, standing as a classic Nathan for You episode as a result.
9 “Andy vs. Uber” (Season 4, Episode 4)
IMDb Rating: 9.1/10
“Andy vs. Uber” certainly wasn’t the first time Nathan Fielder made a “David vs. Goliath”-type episode by pitting a small business up against a giant one that crushes much of the competition. As some episodes below will show, these stories often make for ideal Nathan for You episodes, and this one from Season 4 is no exception.
Andy, a taxi driver, was previously featured on an earlier episode of the show but gets the spotlight here, with Fielder’s plan also seeming personal, given he believes his scheme may have influenced Uber in said earlier episode. “Andy vs. Uber” is an underdog story that’s also hilarious and silly in the best ways and one of the highlights from the show’s final season, and the way the story’s framed makes it pretty easy to not fall on the side of Uber, what with their near monopoly and all.
8 “Smokers Allowed” (Season 3, Episode 5)
IMDb Rating: 9.1/10
A classic Nathan for You plan that seems just dumb enough to be brilliant, “Smokers Allowed” is all about Fielder helping a bar get around anti-smoking rules. The hope is that if they can circumvent said rules, patrons who want to smoke will find the bar an ideal destination.
The actual plan involves staging an avant-garde play inside the bar, eventually making patrons a part of the play, as smoking is allowed on-stage during theater plays. It’s elaborate and silly, but Fielder keeps pushing it into mind-bending and even somewhat thought-provoking territory, with the clash of artifice and reality on offer here being explored further in Fielder’s next show The Rehearsal. Those who enjoyed that more recent show and want to discover what the fuss is about regarding Nathan for You might find this to be a good entry point.
7 “The Anecdote” (Season 4, Episode 5)
IMDb Rating: 9.2/10
Fielder began experimenting with the format of his show more in its final season, and “The Anecdote” indicates this well. In the episode, he doesn’t actually help any businesses and instead details how he manufactured the perfect talk-show story, with said story appearing in an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! about a month before “The Anecdote” aired.
It’s one of the most impressive tricks Nathan Fielder ever pulled, given how far he went to force an unusual story to happen just so he could have a great one to share on a talk show. It calls into question similar things people may have heard and taken for granted, yet Fielder’s genius here is that it did more or less happen… he was just in control the whole time.
6 “Gas Station/Caricature Artist” (Season 1, Episode 4)
IMDb Rating: 9.2/10
Season 1’s “Gas Station/Caricature Artist” is the rare example of a multi-scheme Nathan for You episode that ranks among the series’ highest-rated episodes. One part of the episode revolves around an elaborate rebate at a gas station that’s difficult to actually claim, while the other sees Fielder getting a caricature artist to draw offensive portraits of people that work as pieces of shock comedy.
Both plans here are hilarious and rewarding to watch unfold, but the gas station segment sticks in one’s mind the most after watching. It pushes a little further than many other Season 1 episodes did and was important in helping to establish some of the deeper and strangely emotional themes Nathan for You would become well known for exploring.
5 “Electronics Store” (Season 3, Episode 1)
IMDb Rating: 9.2/10
What starts as a seemingly simple scheme spirals wildly out of control in “Electronics Store,” and the results are mesmerizing to watch. Nathan Fielder helps a small electronics store take on the dominant Best Buy, mainly by having dirt-cheap TVs that are almost impossible to buy, getting Best Buy to price-match, and then taking the cheap TVs, once price-matched, to resell.
There’s even more to it than that, but it’s such a wild ride that even taking the amount of words necessary to explain the whole thing wouldn’t do justice to how ridiculous and funny this episode ends up getting. “Electronics Store” manages to be hilarious, explore the human desire for connection in considerable depth, and feature an alligator, all in just one episode. As far as wild Nathan for You episodes go, they don’t get much wilder than this.
4 “The Hero” (Season 3, Episode 8)
IMDb Rating: 9.3/10
Like many great Nathan for You episodes, it’s hard to know where the line between reality and make-believe is in “The Hero,” which sees Fielder impersonate a man who’s struggling in life in an attempt to make him a hero. It could be a work of great documentary filmmaking or a great work of fiction. Maybe it’s a bit of both.
Thankfully, for those who don’t want to think about it too much, “The Hero” is also hilarious and audacious and has an oddly suspenseful feel to it for much of the runtime. It has a great deal to say about identity and one’s satisfaction (or lack thereof), making for a great Season 3 finale. It’s another episode of the show that demonstrates how Nathan Fielder doesn’t need to stick to a formula to make great television, and indeed, his work in the world of TV since Nathan for You concluded has been increasingly harder to label or summarize succinctly.
3 “Souvenir Shop; ELAIFF” (Season 2, Episode 2)
IMDb Rating: 9.3/10
Standing as perhaps the first Nathan for You episode to focus on just one scheme (besides the Season 1 outlier episode “The Claw of Shame,” if that counts), “Souvenir Shop; ELAIFF” represents the show at its best. A fake film is made so that its extras can buy real items from a struggling souvenir shop, with Fielder eventually making his own film festival to give legitimacy to this fake film.
It starts with one simple idea, unfolds in a way that could spell legal trouble for Fielder, and at that point, the episode pivots to becoming about how to get out of that hot water. “Souvenir Shop; ELAIFF” is elaborate and wholly satisfying, with each scene being funnier than the last, and is overall quite brilliant. It’s one of the earliest episodes of Nathan for You that shows its potential as one of the funniest and most intelligent pieces of documentary filmmaking of all time.
2 “Finding Frances” (Season 4, Episode 8)
IMDb Rating: 9.5/10
A series finale that runs four times longer than an average Nathan for You episode, “Finding Frances” is the show at its deepest and arguably most serious. It has some humor and expected awkwardness but is also quite sad and even a little disturbing, focusing on how Fielder helps an aging man try to locate a woman he used to be in love with decades prior.
It’s a perfect way to end the show because even if Fielder had wanted to keep things going, it’s hard to imagine how he could have topped this within the confines of Nathan for You. “Finding Frances” is as much a feature-length documentary (or mockumentary?) as it is an episode of television and really pushes boundaries in the best way possible. It’s perhaps the most emotionally ambitious episode of the entire show, and that made it fitting as an overall series finale.
1 “Dumb Starbucks” (Season 2, Episode 5)
IMDb Rating: 9.5/10
Detailing perhaps Nathan Fielder’s most infamous and widely-publicized scheme, “Dumb Starbucks” sees Fielder attempting to use parody law to help a small coffee shop obtain popularity. This plan involves calling the place Dumb Starbucks in the hope that people will either mistake it for the real thing or go to it for the novelty factor. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that could’ve happened, but the whole Dumb Starbucks situation was incredibly well-publicized when it was all going down.
From Fielder dealing with media attention to a very awkward meeting with a lawyer, to how it all inevitably comes crashing down, “Dumb Starbucks” is an absolute rollercoaster of an episode. The shallowness of the parody is so dumb it’s clever, and for as hilarious as the Nathan for You episode is, it also gives viewers a ton to think about, making it a series highlight for sure.