The Dumb Starbucks episode of Nathan For You finally aired on Comedy Central last nite. When it was being filmed a few months ago it was all anybody in the media could talk about for at least 3 days. Wild speculation about what or who was behind the stunt occupied everyone’s mind and ebay was flooded with Dumb Starbucks paraphernalia before it was finally unmasked as a stunt for the television show. How did it turn out?
As it turns out, this may be Fielder’s most fully realized prank to date. Season 2 has been remarkable in taking the show in new and weirder avenues than season 1, keeping it fresh and interesting. This ep opens with the owner of Helios Cafe asking Nathan for help to get more customers. Nathan’s answer is to bring in customers by remaking the store as Dumb Starbucks and counting on the confusion to drive business. As he did in the Gift Shop ep, they must establish themselves as parody artists, singing song parodies at open mic nights, then with an art show. The Helios owner eventually backs out, and Nathan decides to go it alone with his Dumb Starbucks concept, renting a nearby store in Los Feliz and dressing it up in signage, cups, pastries, cold case etc and opens for business. After one day in business, the worldwide media descends on the store and lines wrap around the block for Dumb Talls, Dumb Ventés, Dumb Pastries. Clips from local and national news shows are shown and pundits give their two cents that its a comment against corporate culture, it’s Banksy’s latest, etc. Alas, like all brilliant ideas, Dumb Starbucks is soon shutdown by the LA Health Department, but not before Fielder can promote the store on Jimmy Kimmel Live and hold a press conference promising a second outlet in Brooklyn, NY.
Once the attention dies down and the store closes, Nathan comes back to the Helios owner seeking advice, appealing to their friendship. The owner isn’t having it, pointing out that they’re not friends and Nathan leaves, friendless once again. As usual, the discomfort watching these people tell Nathan hard truths is palpable, and watching its hard not to think this got away from the production of the show. In voiceover, Nathan acknowledges as much, saying he had no way of knowing it would become the phenomenon it did. In a recent interview, Fielder delights in his odd and socially inept way of interacting with the people he’s hired to “help.” But, in this episode, the discomfort Nathan displays when interacting with people is at its best when he’s giving an orientation to his Dumb Starbucks employees, asking them who on the three person team each is most attracted too; explaining that the store is legally an art gallery so if customers get sick it’s part of the experience; or arguing with a Starbucks employee when he tries to get the word out about his store in an actual Starbucks parking lot. Fielder ends the show by saying Dumb Starbucks isn’t what he set out to do, and frees his employees to pursue a relationship with each other if they want.
Its one of the most brilliant episodes of the show and certainly the most well-publicized. Its so fully realized and goes to such a high level of parody it’s genuinely unfortunate the coffee shop owner didn’t go along the entire way. Like most of the participants on the show, he was never 100% on board with the idea to begin with, and his hesitancy to perform at the initial open mic night is the rare moment where the participant backs out. As Fielder discusses in the How Was Your Week interview, it’s amazing the degree the participants will go along with the show’s ideas, and their reluctance to call out Fielder. Dumb Starbucks shows that, really, the show doesn’t even need a participant to succeed.