Anatomy of a Joke: Nathaniel’s Disgusting Accident


The calm before the storm…

It’s been over two years since I’ve last written one of these joke analyses, but the… enormity of this one really grabbed my attention. Unlike the last joke where I discussed it in largely positive terms, I want to analyze how a joke can actually hurt a show. Because with this bit of comedy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend basically ruined a main character within a single scene. Let me break it down.

The Context: I don’t have a link to the actual scene this time since it hasn’t been uploaded on youtube yet (although that may be for the best), so I’ll just set the tone. A new main cast member was added to the show to shake things up a bit late into its second season. His name is Nathaniel, he’s a potential love interest to the show’s star, he’s kind of a jerk but there’s a vulnerability there (if this sounds familiar to you, you probably watched Parks and Recreation). He’s a talented hard working lawyer who’s meant to represent everything the show’s main character was trying to get away from in the pilot, but also act as her temptation to return to those roots. He definitely has his own issues primarily having to do with his father, and his robotic nature and lack of morality lends itself to comedy nicely. He’s a character the show skillfully built within just two episodes. They destroy all that in one scene.

The Framing: Nathaniel is alone in his office with two of his employees. Both of them are women who kinda don’t like him but are nice enough to care about him anyways. He’s been sick for the day and subjected them to a rancid fart attack earlier in the episode during a meeting (embarrassing, but not irreparably damaging to his character). There is largely no music at all during this scene though, and the warning growl his stomach gives right before he unloads his bowels right in front of them is deep and ominous against a silent backdrop. Nathaniel’s panicked desperation as he realizes what is about to happen is something to behold and is portrayed as truly pathetic when juxtaposed with the shocked women before him.

The Execution: As mentioned before, Nathaniel’s stomach suddenly begins to growl in the middle of a conversation with two of his employees. Knowing what could happen, he panics and begs them to leave immediately, but it’s far too late. He starts yelling shrill and repetitive cries of “No”, valiantly trying to prevent the torrent of feces from escaping his buttocks but ultimately failing, making intermittently pained and embarrassed facial expressions all as it’s happening. At first his employees aren’t willing to accept what happened, but a wave of rancid smells confirms what they both must have feared leaving them both shell shocked. Both nervous, they ask if it’s still happening, to their horror, it still is. Nathaniel is still pooping, only he’s no longer fighting it. His eyes tightly clenched in embarrassment, he nods his head, squeaks “yep”, and continues pooping himself, resigned to his fate. They offer to help roll him to the bathroom, but he declines, and rolls himself on his chair across the office into the bathroom, moving as a specter of foul odor throughout the workplace. Everyone is watching him, reacting to him, as he enters that bathroom. It’s only as he nears the washroom that music begins playing again, ponderous and vaguely sad in its tempo. This show is a musical, so the lack of even background music for the scene where Nathaniel was defiling his drawers indicated to the audience that we really should focus on what’s happening in the scene itself, and boy did we. Nathaniel is later seen wearing a totally different but ill-fitting suit, leading us to think about the process that must have occurred for him to get into it. The cleaning. The disposal. The mess that must have dripped onto the office bathroom floor. There is no going back from this.

The Implication: This should be clear. Nathaniel shat himself and everyone that works for him knows it. The star of the show, Rebecca, learns of this eventually and uses that knowledge to mock him. In the previous episode she showed a definite attraction to him, but understandably after this “episode”, it has all but vanished. Nathaniel is a pathetic underwear stuffer, a brownie packer, a toddler that is not in control of his bowels… this is how the audience will always see him now. If this had occurred off screen, if we were only told Nathaniel pooped his pants he may have come back from this, but no, we were right there with the ladies he did it in front of. It was visceral, it was in our faces and the show demanded we watch even if we didn’t want to. Everything the character was, everything he represented for Rebecca and the show was supplanted by this one scene. We were right there to watch his struggle, his failure, and the aftermath of his disgusting accident.

In my last anatomy of a joke, I discussed how a joke for an old character put everything we knew about him on its head in a way that made sense and was funny. Here I talk about how a “funny” scene could turn a promising new character into a repugnant punchline to a joke nobody wanted to hear. Nathaniel had so much potential, but alas, it has gone the way of the pants he took a dump in. In a way this highlights the significance of what a single joke can mean to a show, but in another, it reads like an obituary to a character that is still in the main cast. Whatever, after that scene, he may as well have died. RIP Nathaniel Plimpton, you were great while you lasted.

Quote of the Day:

“Oh, it’s not cute, Annie. And I read your entry in the pool. Was your goal to win or just be disgusting?”

Frankie Dart, Community.

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