Finding Frances

The feature length finale of the Comedy Central series ‘Nathan For You’ takes an amazing melancholy turn, when Nathan decides to use the show’s resources to find Bill Heath’s (the Bill Gates impersonator from previous episodes) long lost love.

Though still full of the same comedic flavor that Nathan is famous for, this is a heart wrenching documentary about a man that could not let go of the past.

Bill, now 76 years old, never married, and never had children, has spent his life always wondering what happened to his young love Frances, last seen over 50 years ago. Though it is never stated directly, it is implied that he never married or had children because he was always hoping to find her. Early in the episode we get many clips of him reminiscing about her, always saying ‘I should have married her.’

Nathan takes it on himself to help Bill find Frances, using ridiculous, roundabout tactics that will be familiar to fans of the show. But always present between the comedy is a thick vein of longing, and it will creep under your skin and leave your heart aching.

What kind of love must one feel to still wonder about someone from half a century past? What kind of emotions could prevent a person from moving on after so much time? The relationship of Bill and Frances is startlingly similar to that of Florintino and Fermina in Love in the Time of Cholera, except, as we find out during a heart squeezing scene where Bill reads through a box of old letters–Bill left Frances to pursue his career in acting, and regretted it ever since.

I won’t spoil the end, but as the episode progresses and Nathan finds more and more information about Frances, it becomes clear that Bill has held some kind of frozen image of her in his mind, a version of her trapped in amber and unchanging as the decades rolled by.

Is this how all love works? A first impression of overwhelming emotion seared into the brain, unable to be overwritten no matter what else happens with or because of that person. Do we have any choice but to cling to that moment when everything was perfect and amazing, despite all that has changed? That irrationality and inability to accept change–or even perceive it in some cases–is part of what makes us human…

The end of this episode left me with a surreal feeling of the gulf of time that can separate two people–a feeling of melancholy for the past, like opening a time capsule full of childhood mementos, or finding an old love letter in your attic.

This episode was better produced, and miles more meaningful than 90% of Hollywood movies today. Even if you’re not familiar with the show, and don’t care for absurdist/awkward comedy– I would recommend watching this episode. It is heartfelt, real, and peeks at some secret aspect of being human that hides within all of us.

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