So much of Nathan For You relies on active participants, people willing to go along with whatever crazy idea Nathan Fielder can come up with, whether it’s a manager of a business or a customer. This season, we’ve seen Nathan get lucky with many of his potential business ideas, as almost everyone is willing to go with the flow, at least for a little while. We’ve also seen how he’s able to create the intended reaction he wants. “Hotel/Travel Agent” is an example of what happens when Nathan’s ideas sort of go nowhere.
“Hotel/Travel Agent” isn’t as much about the weird reactions Nathan can get because of his ideas, but rather shows the lengths Nathan will go to and rely on the humor to come from that instead. In all three of the segments this week, the business owners or the people Nathan is trying to get interested in his ideas never quite go for it fully. These segments are still fun, but there is something much more enjoyable about watching these business owners completely give in to Nathan’s ideas, rather than being rightfully afraid of going all in.
The opening segment takes Nathan to the Hilltop Hotel, which wants to attract more families. With relationships always on his mind, Nathan suggest that couples enjoy hotels because they can have sex, yet parents don’t like hotels because they aren’t able to have sex in the same room as their children without giving their kids permanent developmental damage that’ll never be repaired. Nathan’s solution is to create a soundproof isolation box that kids of all ages would enjoy that parents can put their kids in when they want to have sex, without all the pesky chances of ruining their child’s innocence.
The real humor in this segment surprisingly has nothing to do with the owner’s clear disinterest in keeping this box even after it proves to be successful. It doesn’t even come from the odd parents who allow their kid to be Nathan’s test dummy, as they allow their child to be put in the box while a seven person orgy goes on mere feet away from him. It’s in Nathan’s complete determination towards the goal at hand. It’s insane how great the box he makes actually looks, as he creates a spaceship for kids to enjoy, full of glow-in-the-dark stars and nature sounds—including Nathan’s own animal noises. But when two porn stars come in and test it near a real child, followed by an entire orgy just to make sure, it becomes the level of determination that makes the bit rather than the usual insane reactions that should come from an idea this nuts.
Nathan is an even bigger failure when he tries to help a travel agent, whose customers have dwindled to the oldest of the old. Since travel agents are a thing of the past and the owner’s only customers seem to be incredibly ancient, Nathan suggests to owner Rose Ilandrian that she start to transfer her travel agent customers into a new business of a funeral home. The idea is such a stretch that it’s no surprise when Rose barely even tries to make it work, or when the only customers they try it with don’t seem all that interested in the new business. Once again, it’s Nathan’s strange mental gymnastics to get from one point to another that makes the bit work. First Nathan and Rose visit a funeral home to learn the tricks of the trade and soon discover more people are choosing cremation. After searching for cremation furnace prices, Nathan decides to instead try out a pizza oven to see if it could also do the same job. So Nathan tries his best to make a human pizza—filled with anatomically correct meats and a gigantic dough penis—and dresses it in his clothes to see if it could do the job. Yet when no one takes Rose up on her new business, the pizza oven-turned-cremation idea is sort of all for nothing.
I don’t know the true order of how this show is created, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Nathan suggested the funeral idea, Rose had no interest in pursuing it, so then Nathan attempted to try out the human pizza idea to save the bit. By doing this, he basically does save the segment, once again taking a bad idea and turning it into something worthwhile.
The most destined for failure idea, though, is one that didn’t even make the title description, in one of the rare segments where Nathan tries to create his own business out of scratch. Nathan gives us a “peek” behind how the show is made and says that instead of risking being late for some of his meetings, he always has two unpaid interns on a motorcycle behind him: one to get him to where he needs to go, another to drive his car to the location once the traffic subsides. Nathan’s idea is to spread the wealth and get bikers to drive around gridlocked areas and ask them if they would like to use the service. This segment isn’t even a legitimate idea, but rather a way for Nathan to get annoyed reactions—which for the most part, he does. If a guy on a bike offered to drive you away from your car while his girlfriend drove the car for you, would you take them up on it? No sane person would and Nathan knows that.
In the end, Nathan blames the failure of his motorcycle business on people not being able to trust others in this post-Pearl Harbor world. He says people are too afraid of the unknown to let someone on the inside. Yet what saves “Hotel/Travel Agent” is Nathan’s ability to attempt that unknown, to go for the craziest ideas and save them when they don’t go as crazily as planned. Nathan is able to create the reaction he wants by building the insanity to a point that he knows will be borderline brilliant. Hardly any of Nathan’s ideas are successes, but he takes the immediate failures as a learning process, a way to make something out of nothing and find humor even in the ideas that are duds.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.