Nathan For You “Dumb Starbucks” Review (2×05)

30 Jul


“It was cool that people could draw their own meaning from a business that was just there to make money.”

For the first time, we know where an episode of Nathan For You is heading; Dumb Starbucks was hyped up in the media a while back, and we’ve followed the rise and fall of this lovely little store already. However, even with our prior knowledge of the situation, Fielder still manages to surprise us at every turn, delivering a hilarious 22 minutes of television that is among the best I’ve ever seen.

The structure of “Dumb Starbucks” is fairly similar to that of “Souvenir Shop/ELAIFF”: Nathan creates a situation that pushes the legal boundaries, and in order to avoid crossing those boundaries, he goes to elaborate lengths; then, it was the fake film festival, and here, it’s his life as a parody artist. This one premise is built upon as the episode progresses, and the lack of a two or three-segment structure does wonders for the episode’s overall impact. First, it’s a simple Nathan Fielder business proposal, and then, it’s an open mic performance. Then, an art show. Then, the actual opening of the store. Then, the media frenzy. The escalation of the events is really quite similar to “Souvenir Shop/ELAIFF”.

There’s another similarity to a previous episode–last week’s, in fact–when Nathan meets with Lawyer Peter J. Marks to get the scoop on what he can and can’t do with regards to his business plan. For two weeks in a row, we see people signing a Fielder contract and feeling duped afterward, and we can see that them agreeing to sign is mainly because of the presence of the cameras (and partly because contract reading is not fun). Fielder gets genuine reactions out of people, but he sometimes does so through the use of his cameramen, through the implied artificiality of the interactions.

It’s something that comes up at the end of the episode, in which Nathan goes back to Elias Zacklin–the Helio coffee shop owner–after Dumb Starbucks is closed down (Health Department, you suck). Elias, with whom Nathan cut ties earlier, talks about how his friends don’t have video cameras, how they build friendships in person rather than through a TV crew. It’s a perfect fit for the show’s pervasive theme of Nathan attempting to build relationships, and it helps Nathan the character realize what he sacrificed in the name of fame. We can certainly see the rise and fall not just of the business here, but also of the person behind it all, and Fielder hammers that point home with the surprisingly poignant final monologue. “They say that the devil is an artist. Maybe I was his greatest piece yet.”

In the end, Nathan’s act of selflessness–using the lingering fame of his now closed store to point customers toward Helio–may not win him any friends, but it’s a very sweet capper to a perfect episode. It’s an episode about meaning: when you try to, say, manufacture a relationship as the head of HR and you succeed, does it mean anything? When you appear all over the news and get invited to Jimmy Kimmel Live!, is it more important than building personal relationships? When people are asked about the meaning of ‘Dumb Starbucks’ and ‘Tank of America’, do their own ideas cloud the simple truth of the store or piece of art? When news anchors explain parody laws and discuss social commentary aspects, are they simply just looking good for the cameras?

In fact, when all’s said and done, “he fucking sucked” is probably the most genuine line uttered in the episode. In a society filled with artificiality, it’s perhaps a TV show that exposes the world for what it is. Perhaps “dumb” just means “dumb”. I don’t think Nathan Fielder’s interested in providing social commentary, though; I think he’s interested in making us laugh through interactions with people who happen to live in a society such as ours.

Does this episode succeed on that front? Yes. Yes, it does, and then some.



-Nathan jumping onto the table to attempt to retrieve the contract: hilarious.

-The relationships-in-the-workplace speech is gloriously awkward. I really love how right after the guy gives Nathan an answer to the question of who he’s the most attracted to, Nathan immediately has a response: “Well, she already picked me, so I don’t think that’s going to work out.”

-You know, Marks, you can’t really shove a contract into your pocket and expect it to go away. I’m sure they taught you that in Law School and/or Common Sense School.

– “I can’t get no…erection.” I love how it’s Elias who thinks of that. Also, the whole open mic sequence is amazing.

-Elias makes me think of Fred Armisen.

-Guess what? Nathan’s selling some of his art pieces online, and they are all amazing. Place your bids now, if you’d like:

Photo credit: Comedy Central, Nathan For You


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