I really enjoy the show Nathan For You for many reasons, it's funny, creative and different from anything else I've watched. Yet, I think why I really enjoy it so much is that Nathan has the ability to draw attention to the ridiculousness of everyday people, as he shows that it takes very little to reveal the strangeness that exists within all of us. Getting a musician to play a smoke detector as a musical instrument to skirt international shipping laws, having a large man offset his weight through the use of balloons so that he can go horseback riding, meeting people who would camp overnight and solve endless riddles for an $11 gas refund and, in the same episode, having the gas station owner talk about the benefits of drinking the urine of the young.
What is happening could be described as a suspect business version of the Milgram Experiment where people are pushed or are willing to do things that they wouldn't normally do because someone is asking them in such a way that it seems that their personal responsibility towards the end result is diminished.With that, Nathan's seriousness isn't a secondary feature of the show, but a necessary quality. That seriousness is his lab coat that, along with the cameras, creates the situation where his ideas can be followed.
Yet, once and a while, as was the case with the gas station owner, there isn't a need to push or diminish personal responsibility as the weirdness openly existed in the people and not the situation created. While that is true of some individuals, an entire profession shows that same quality. The absurdity of the psychic is not below the surface, but inherent in the position. In the 'normal' businessman/businesswoman it is the strange business proposition that has to create a novel situation where Nathan can press his determination and seriousness to create the absurd. In the case of the psychic, the absurd is always there, and while his strange idea accentuates the absurdity, it doesn't have to create it.
Nathan has three episodes where psychics are involved and each demonstrates the absurdity of the psychic.
1. The Ghost Realtor
The idea: A realtor could take advantage of the 50% of people who believe in ghosts by guaranteeing that the houses that they sell are ghost free.
Notable quotes: Psychic - "You know what an incubus is? It's a ghost that will have sex with someone until they die." Realtor - "Wow, that's like what I experienced when I was in Switzerland."
Exorcist - "Do you have any health issues? Are you constantly getting sick, do you have headache bothering you all the time?"
Nathan - "I do have one thing but it's kinda personal, it's uh..hemorrhoids."
Exorcist - "Yeah, that's demonic. Oh yeah. So how do you say that again? I do not say this name very often. Ham-ar-oids?"
Nathan - "Can it [exorcism] help with penis size?"
Exorcist - "Yeah, you see if it's demonic yeah I can cast out the demons from that. I don't have say for the thing to you know to increase your size or whatever."
Exorcist than places his hand on Nathan's head - "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command all of you demons, if there is a demon there..um..you know..um affecting this mans penis, male organs, making it smaller, whatever, if there is any demon there lodged in his penis right now, COME OUT IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST, come out."
The Take away: Don't be surprised to find emails about exorcisms for penis enlargement in your junk folder.
2. A Celebration (It's a clip episode where he catches up with people from old episodes):
The idea: Just catching up with the Ghost Realtor (She really embraced the Ghost Realtor branding and became the Ghost Realtor)
Notable quotes: The new psychic – "So I’m known as a psychic medium, but I’m also clairsentient so I feel my angles and I’m clairvoyant so I can see. I’m also clairaudient so most of the time I hear, I hear voices and I also do financial advising."
Ghost Realtor – "Do you want to ask a question?"
Nathan – "For Ron?" (the previous, now deceased, psychic)
New Psychic – "Yes"
*I skipped a couple less interesting questions*
Nathan - "umm…I know on the show that he worked on the OJ trial, now that he’s on the other side does he have any clearer info on maybe who the real killer was?"
New Psychic – "He does but I don’t. I’m not getting a name or anything like that right now."
Nathan – "He knows who the killer is?"
New Psychic – "Yeah, yes."
Nathan – "Was it OJ?"
New Psychic – "This isn’t coming from Ron, it’s coming from me and that answer is yes."
Nathan – "But Ron’s not telling you that?"
New Psychic – "Every time I present him with that he steps back"
Nathan – "Who's telling you then?"
New Psychic – "My own connection with my own spirit guides"
The Take away: The possibilities have been narrowed down to either OJ did or did not kill Nichole Brown and Ron Goldman, thanks to Ron and the new psychic.
3. Miss Maria Garcia
The idea: That instead of advertising in a general way that you're an accurate psychic, instead pick out an extremely popular name and create individualized, targeted advertising that is in actuality not individualized at all.
Notable quotes: Psychic - "I've placed ads before and I haven't see a lot of return from them."
A person named Maria Garcia calls and the Psychic calls her back with Nathan there to schedule an appointment.
Maria - "Hello?"
Psychic - "Hello, is this Maria Garcia?"
Maria - "Yes"
Psychic - "My name is Dora, I'm a psychic"
Maria - "Hi"
Psychic - "Hi"
Nathan - *Whispers to the Psychic* - "Say you had a vision about her."
Psychic - "Ok"
Psychic - "I had a vision about you."
Nathan - *whispers again* 'and it was a strong vision'
Psychic - "And it was a really strong vision and it came to me in a dream."
The Take away: If a person generates and ensures the predictions that a physic makes happen, then the psychic was correct.
The multiple psychics and the exorcist on the show were each funny to watch and listen to independent of the situation Nathan created, they simply needed only screen time.
Nathan doesn't have to be a skeptic or even take a skeptical stance to make a skeptical point, as the only real difference between his show and a show like the Lond Island Medium is that Nathan isn't a true believer and the footage isn't being cut in a way that points out the hits and ignores the misses.
When much of mysticism is unpacked and shown in a way that doesn't accentuate or build up what is going on it is really effective in showing how underwhelming and silly it all looks. It is the difference between expectation vs reality.
If that second burger, the reality of psychics, was shown more consistently in the way that Nathan shows it then psychics would be a lot less appealing in general. Without showbiz magic, the real magic of psychics is a couple of stale tricks that sandwich a wrinkled fraud layered in cheese.
This highlights the effectiveness of the approach in it takes away the Us/Them conflict, as Nathan is more of a supportive neutral and the format of comedy is more disarming than any formal type of investigation would be. For those reasons, Nathan For You might be the best source of psychic skepticism I've seen on TV.
I'd be really interested to hear what someone with a strong belief in psychics thought of those episodes. Maybe my view is different in being a skeptic and the psychics on the show don't look as bad or as silly as I think they do, or maybe they would pull a Lamar Keene and conclude that those psychics were bad those weren't typical .psychics.