Fielder Atones in The Curse

Curator's Note

Nathan Fielder has long faced accusations of punching down. His breakout comedy Nathan for You regularly featured struggling entrepreneurs debasing themselves on camera, notoriously illustrated by one episode when a gas station owner touted the benefits of drinking children’s urine. Critics called the show “mean-spirited,” noting “one of the chief byproducts of Nathan for You was the humiliation of its subjects.” 

The New Yorker characterized “the gaze of superiority” deployed in Fielder’s follow-up reality show, The Rehearsal, as “arrogant, cruel, and, above all, indifferent.” Although Melissa Ames identifies schadenfreude as a hallmark of reality television, Fielder’s shows endured particular backlash potentially due to the participants' ignorance of the sort of program they had signed up for. The Rehearsal suggests a growing acknowledgment on Fielder's part, best demonstrated by a simulated argument with one participant who angrily asks a baffled Fielder, “Is my life the joke?”

This climax may have instigated his third show, The Curse, which foregrounds the exploitation of everyday people on reality television and the toxic nature of those producing it. Entirely scripted and exclusively populated by professional actors, the program evades accusations of ridiculing real people while maintaining Fielder’s signature balance of cringe and poignancy.

We see this in the pilot, specifically the artificial tears placed in Fernando’s grandmother’s eyes. Had this sequence featured nonprofessional actors, we might laugh at their willingness to do anything for televised stardom. However, by functioning within a purely fictionalized scenario, The Curse instead delivers a clean hit to an industry that will do anything for the money shot. Additionally, although Fielder positioned participants as naïve in previous work, he portrays those outside the industry as savvy: while Asher and Whitney appear shocked by the cafe shutting down, Fernando remarks “I figured it was for the show, like not a real thing, not long-term,” despite them promising him a barista job. Still, learning that the focus group only laughs at Fernando’s coffee-making foible reminds us of our own complicity in our enjoyment of Fielder’s earlier shows. 

If, as some suggest, Nathan for You asks how much working-class people will pay to achieve fame, The Curse depicts them as ambivalent to the fleeting celebrity television promises. Significant conflict derives from the hunt for a homeowner willing to appear on television. When Vic asks Whitney if she needs him for the show, she tells him not unless he wants to, which he declines. After she and Asher confront two potential homebuyers, Dougie informs them that they have withdrawn from participating in Flipanthropy altogether, forcing them to recruit Cara who sabotages them. Resorting to street-casting, they hire one man who exercises remarkable agency by insisting on appearing with his girlfriend whom Whitney attempts to recast. Later, Asher asks a fast-food employee if she is excited to be shot in two weeks. Compare her feigned enthusiasm with Whitney and Asher’s jubilation upon learning they have been greenlit – it is obvious who has succumbed to vanity.

While all of Fielder’s shows critique reality television, The Curse distinguishes itself by refraining from enacting it. Instead, it functions as his apology, its backstage premise a means by which to take ownership of former sins. Compelling as the 2023 premiere was, it will prove all the more interesting in relation to his next steps moving forward.



Delaney, Darby. "It's Been Real, 'Nathan For You.'" Film School Rejects, 18 Oct. 2018, Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

Ryan, Shane. "Is Nathan Fielder Cruel—and If He Is, Does It Matter?" Paste, 18 July 2022, ts%20subjects. Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

Brody, Richard. "The Cruel and Arrogant Gaze of Nathan Fielder's 'The Rehearsal.'" The New Yorker, 20 June 2022, Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

Ames, Melissa. "Escaping Reality by Watching Reality TV? Voyeurism, Schadenfreude, and Other Coping Mechanisms for Avoiding or Engaging in Societal Reflection." Small Screen, Big Feels: Television and Cultural Anxiety in the Twenty-First Century, U of Press Kentucky, 2020, pp. 47-48.

Lear, Samantha. "We Did a Deep Dive Into 'Nathan for You' to Discover What's Real and What's Fake!" Life & Style, 9 Nov. 2017, is-nathan-for-you-real-or-fake-145154/. Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

Unlike his previous shows, Fielder shares the title of creator in The Curse alongside Benny Safdie.

Romanowski, M., & Sheldon, Z. (2020). "‘Time to Ranch it Up!’: Ethics and satire in new media." Critical Studies in Television, 15(3), 239-254

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