About 15 minutes into the New York Movie Competition premiere of The Curse, I felt the massive viewers of the Alice Tully Corridor shift of their seats, en masse. One of many sequence’ stars — and co-creator and author — Nathan Fielder, had simply accomplished one thing pretty disarming, and the vibe, collectively and palpably, modified.
Fielder is a well-liked comedic actor who, primarily based on the proliferation of Warby Parker glasses and baseball caps surrounding me (I say, in jest), most of my viewers was particularly right here to see. A query that was most likely on many of those followers’ minds (myself included, as a longtime fan) is the extent to which Fielder could be debuting as a Large Critical Actor in his first narrative present, or whether or not he’d be the partly actual, partly affected model of Nathan Fielder we’d all come to know and love from the comedic actuality exhibits that had made him well-known — the Fielder persona who he himself appeared incapable of shedding. It’s exactly why the scene that noticeably rattled my viewers did so within the first place: Fielder was all of a sudden a personality that we didn’t fairly acknowledge.
Nathan Fielder has refined taking part in a sure kind of man, one who additionally occurs to be slightly like who he truly is. Via Nathan for You, he turned infamous for his signature on-screen character model of inflexible, throttling discomfort. Along with his awkward, monotone cadence and barely uncanny means of interacting with others, he repeatedly put himself at odds with the non-actors in his present by merely permitting awkward moments to play out to excruciating impact. He introduced that persona again for his extra creative actuality enterprise, The Rehearsal, final 12 months, which partly served to touch upon his documentary model, his personal picture, and the murky ethics of each. However Fielder is now virtually inseparable from this fastidiously nurtured model of cringe, seen in only a few minor performing roles outdoors of his personal exhibits to show whether or not he can stretch out from it, or even when he actually desires to.
Picture: Richard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount Plus with Showtime
Along with his new Showtime sequence, The Curse, which he created, wrote for, and stars in, all alongside Benny Safdie, Fielder amplifies and satirizes his personal notorious persona to chic impact. All the character of Asher Siegel is a subversion of the Fielder archetype whereas nonetheless taking part in very a lot into it. In The Curse, Fielder’s acquainted awkwardness is weaponized right into a model I’ve dubbed Darkish Nathan. The opposite half of a married couple vying for HGTV fame whereas gentrifying a poor New Mexico city, Fielder performs Asher Siegel, husband to Whitney Siegel (Emma Stone).
As Asher, Fielder is awkward, meek, and subordinate to his spouse, whose domination and subjugation over him is maybe most intimately articulated in a terrific first-episode intercourse scene and the prior revelation that he has a tiny penis. Asher’s small-dick issues have manifested as an inferiority advanced, whereas Whitney has settled into one thing of a god advanced. However the two of them discover shared floor on being morally vacuous grifters who deeply consider in their very own grift, determined to be favored and, most significantly, perceived pretty much as good with a capital G.
The scene that shook my NYFF viewers was one early on in episode 1, through which Asher and Whitney are interviewed on-camera about their upcoming present, Fliplanthropy, by a reporter who has designs to needle Whitney about her corrupt household connections. When the couple’s makes an attempt to divert the dialog fail, Asher, desirous to defend his spouse, confronts the reporter viciously and personally. Fielder has spent the episode up up to now because the model of himself folks acknowledge: vocal fry, stunted speech, hesitations and pregnant pauses. A man who’s “simply form of there,” “very off-putting,” and “not attention-grabbing,” as focus group members for Fliplanthropy astutely level out in episode 3, a scene that seems like one thing of a metatextual apart on Fielder’s identified persona. However when Asher goes into assault mode, Fielder speaks easily, clearly, and with a self-assuredness that appears not solely unrecognizable but in addition significantly insidious. Simply previous to his assault, he was talking about his spouse’s “Passive Dwelling” challenge by mechanically studying off a script from reminiscence, laughing awkwardly and making an attempt to assimilate as a human in the way in which Fielder all the time appears to be. With our guard down and our expectations tempered, he sneaks in with a efficiency that makes it clear he’s not going to be fairly the identical man this time.
It may simply come throughout as Fielder purely making an attempt to offer himself intense actorly moments that show his vary — and possibly it’s a little bit. However it’s additionally a giant a part of what defines Asher’s character: a constant repression of feelings that explodes into bursts of forceful rage. Ruled by the whims of his spouse and the connection together with his personal dick, he retains his emotions to himself and has no wholesome outlet to precise them till they’re launched in a torrent (specifically, he offers such a present of howling on the finish of episode 9 that’s nearly troublesome to look at).
However Asher isn’t fairly as bumbling and demure because the Fielder of Nathan for You, and even The Rehearsal, the latter of which has extra creative/satirical intent with Fielder nonetheless utilizing that acquainted haplessness to make a particular level. In The Curse, there’s a stage of calculation to his social inelegance, as if his unconscious intent is to disarm the folks he interacts with simply as Fielder has disarmed us, the viewers. Asher is just not completely harmless, even when it’s clear he embodies a subservience to Whitney that manifests as protecting rampages and pathetic, husbandly deference.
The weaponization of his awkwardness affords him a sure good thing about the doubt, like when a hilarious and premeditated snafu with a former co-worker permits him to steal the incriminating footage he wants for a bribe. The place Nathan for You noticed Fielder’s unusual character utilized to create comedy via pushing the boundaries of agonizing social interactions, Asher pushes the boundaries of ethical turpitude via how a lot he can get away with by being “simply form of there.” It doesn’t all the time really feel intentional, however there’s a perniciousness to it nonetheless, in addition to a extra obvious self-awareness significantly on the subject of his relationship to Whitney. Asher’s invisibility and submission in distinction to his spouse creates a perverse sub-dom dynamic between the 2 of them. It additionally permits a stage of general accountability that he can willfully skirt — see a later scene through which Asher says he’s Whitney’s child and does an impression of a child for her and her gynecologist.
So, that is Darkish Nathan: the Fielder character subverted as a type of passive antagonist, outwardly unassuming, who has no actual allegiances to anybody or something aside from what his present state of affairs requires. He’s in the end morally empty, which is what makes the character so malignant; Whitney, simply as immoral, hides her personal rotted conscience underneath the facade of compelled likability and open-mindedness. However as a result of Asher performs it extra like he doesn’t know any higher, he quietly comes off because the worst of the 2. Relying on which means you need to take a look at Nathan for You and The Rehearsal, maybe Darkish Nathan has been the one Nathan this whole time — on the very least, The Curse proves he’s desirous to discover the very darkness that he created for himself.
The Curse episode 1 is now streaming on Showtime. New episodes premiere each Friday.