In an age of reboots, revivals, and remakes, one man seems determined to make something that you’ve never seen before. With the first trailer for Showtime’s new show The Curse coming out earlier this week, it seems Nathan Fielder is ready to reinvent himself again.
After getting his start as a segment writer on Canadian Idol, Fielder got his first show, Nathan For You, picked up by Comedy Central in 2013. The show follows Fielder as a business consultant who aims to solve the problems he is given by struggling companies. Although this may seem a typical and mundane concept, Fielder aims to solve these problems through unconventional means, involving everything from abusing parody law to legally open an unofficial Starbucks (named Dumb Starbucks), to an army of 60 cleaners that aim to fully clean your house in 5 minutes.
Fielder has learnt to roll with the punches the general public may throw at him
The highlight of his shows, however, is Fielder’s unparalleled ability to manufacture strangeness, in both the people he engages with and the scenarios he creates. Even people who at first come across normal will soon inadvertently reveal incredible and bizarre facts about themselves. With a background in improv comedy, it’s easy to see how Fielder has learnt to roll with the punches the general public may throw at him. Nothing seems to excite Fielder more than just politely nodding and going on with what these people are saying. At one point a shopkeeper reveals he used to drink his grandchild’s urine to remain young. In another, a Santa impersonator reveals a surprising collection of unlicensed firearms, as well as a related criminal conviction.
In his second show, The Rehearsal, Fielder reinvents the format again. In this, he aims to give people the chance to rehearse difficult conversations or life events. Fielder dons an impressive laptop harness, talking to people about dialogue trees and creating mock scenarios with actors. What all of this describes is Fielder’s ability to operate in a rare genre of television known as ‘hyper-reality’. This is where a show aims to purposely confuse the audience with how genuine it is, creating something that blurs the lines between what is real and what is fictitious.
The standard formula for a TV show is that it’s either real or not. Reality TV only works if the audience believe that what they are being shown is a truly genuine situation. Shows such as Love Island or Big Brother do everything in their power to hide the cameras and production crew in order to create this mirage of honesty. In contrast, Fielder aims to not only make you question how real the show itself is, but to question how much ‘reality’ there actually is in reality TV.
You are not supposed to feel like you are watching his subjects with him
Nathan Fielder himself is a masterfully created piece of hyper-reality. Where does the socially awkward, naïve presenter stop, and the genius mastermind begin? This off-kilter persona is extremely useful for Fielder, as it allows him to pry these extraordinary stories out of the people he meets. They cannot believe they are being fooled as they see him as a weak, socially inept idiot, similar to how Sacha Baron Cohen would trick his guests with his infamous Ali-G character. If a guest believes that the presenter is the joke, they are more likely to make a fool out of themselves. In the end, Nathan Fielder is but a misdirection.
Every episode of both Nathan for You and The Rehearsal are narrated by Fielder’s dry and monotonous voice over, a further layer of his Nathan Fielder persona. There is no relatable Iain Stirling commentary aiming to act as a reminder to the audience that they are watching real people. You are not supposed to feel like you are watching his subjects with him. In many situations, Fielder is just as interesting as the people he finds.
Although we have only had a short trailer, it seems The Curse is equally fascinated by the relationship TV has with reality. And Fielder is upending his formula again; the show is a scripted 30-minute comedy, in collaboration with Uncut Gems co-director Benny Safdie. The show follows Fielder opposite Emma Stone, as two home improvement presenters who are struck with a curse as they try to conceive.
We may not know what to expect, but one thing is a certainty; The Curse is going to be unlike anything you have ever seen before.