Nathan's Curse

Curator's Note

The Curse is one of the most inventive TV shows of recent memory, both thematically and formally. It is a dark satire of eco-washing discourse and white colonial guilt that manages to construct a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere that is thrilling and upsetting at the same time. As many have said, it does not look quite like anything else on TV, both in terms of its naturalistic and awkward pace and its distant and off-putting framing. It will also quite literally show you at least a couple of scenes you have never seen before.

The show and its performances (Emma Stone's in particular) certainly deserve the thoughtful reviews they are getting as pieces of art, but that is not what I want to discuss here. Watching the show, I could not help thinking about how it drastically repositioned Fielder as an artist. Although The Curse is another satire of reality TV culture, like Nathan for You and The Rehearsal, it is also a work of fiction, unlike Fielder's first two efforts.

Reality TV shows usually do not trigger the critical difficulty of assessing their contributions as pieces of art (they are not art; after all, they are reality TV), but that does happen with Fielder's work. And while he has certainly received a lot of critical praise, the discourse around his stunts can also be ambivalent, and often not only aesthetically but ethically. One critic considered Nathan's gaze in The Rehearsal "cruel, and, above all, indifferent."

It does seem unclear if Fielder saw the eerie repetitions in his second show as an elaborate joke or if the concept had a shred of emotional seriousness. In its best moments, it reminds us of other works that attempt to blur the line between reality and fiction. But unlike, say, the filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho in a work like Playing (2007), it certainly does not seem as if Felder cares about the feelings of the people participating in his experiments as much he does about making a very silly thing as silly as it can possibly be.

So Fielder is not only a content creator but an artist, the kind of person we are usually encouraged to appreciate and idolize. And yet, he is the creator of ethically murky reality TV at the same time. I believe this is partly the curse that The Curse is meant to lift both through the fact that it is a straightforward piece of fiction and through its content. And I would argue that it largely succeeded in doing so. 

Nathan had already made at least two previous attempts at what we could call ethical-aesthetical redemption. The first was the finale of Nathan for You, a movie-long episode called "Finding Frances," clearly meant to give a positive, feel-good vibe to the project (and which succeeded to the point of being highly lauded by Errol Morris). The second came at the end of The Rehearsal. But neither was so dramatic or so aesthetically sophisticated.

I am not seriously suggesting that a kind of hero's quest toward authenticity for Nathan Fielder's brand is an exhaustive reading of the show, of course. I am not even suggesting that this is one of its intentional dimensions necessarily (it certainly would not be for Safdie). But the extent to which Fielder has made himself into the "universe's cuck" - as another critic says - in the show's finale does seem to suggest a strange kind of ritual of atonement, certainly of transformation, even if it's an unconscious one.


Sources Referenced:

Geoff King. The Spectacle of the Real: From Hollywood to "Reality TV" and Beyond. (Bristol: Intellect, 2005).

Niklas Luhmann. The Reality of the Mass Media. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).

Richard Brody. The Cruel and Arrogant Gaze of Nathan Fielder's The Rehearsal. In The New Yorker, July 30, 2022. Available at:

Naomi Fry. The Horrifying and Humanistic Ending of the Curse. In The New Yorker, Jan 24, 2024. Available at:

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