Two things I believe to be true: Nathan For You is one of the great shows of our time; it should not return after tonight’s fourth season finale.
In its four too-brief seasons, Nathan For You has made me laugh harder than most anything else in the world. It has found humor and humanity in the unlikeliest places—a group of strangers camping on their journey to a gas rebate, say, or an exorcism—with only occasional, easily forgiven lapses of integrity. The show takes exquisite care to punch, if it punches at anything, at its host rather than its subjects, to focus on their capacity to join him on wild imaginative adventures more than their tolerance for humiliation. I’m thinking of the merchant in “Electronics Store” who gleefully explains their price-matching scheme—involving a tiny door and an alligator—to the psychiatrist who unwaveringly deems him delusional. At its heart, this is a show about one of comedy’s foundational precepts: Great things happen when people tell each other “yes.”
Sadly this season has felt overwhelmingly lackluster. Despite a lovely premiere that checked in on past adventures, Nathan’s schemes have rarely captured the feeling of revelatory wonder—laughter ballooning from a place you never would have seen it coming—that makes this show so great, when it’s great. Many of them have felt perfunctory, ending before they get anywhere good. His plot to sell unauthorized ballpark chili was delightfully intricate, but there was little human element; the same goes for his plot to undermine Uber, which came to the unsurprising conclusion that though taxi drivers hate the company, they cannot fight it and will likely end up working for it. The season’s most buzzed-about episode, “The Anecdote,” likewise lacked any real sense of unpredictability: Nathan came up with a plan, executed it and it went off without a hitch. Like so much of this season, the whole thing was… much funnier in theory than in practice.
In tonight’s two-hour finale, Nathan helps a Bill Gates impersonator track down his long-lost love. It looks promising! I hope and fully expect it will reach unprecedented heights for the show. And then I hope the show ends. It’s had a tremendous run, but this season makes clear that the machine can only keep chugging for so long; sooner or later it will collapse under its own weight. Better to bow out early and move on to the next adventure.
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.