‘Paul T. Goldman’ Is a Meta Journey Thats More Cruel Than Dazzling: TV Review

In the spirit of the work of Nathan Fielder comes “Paul T. Goldman,” a hybrid docuseries about a genuine weirdo. Jason Woliner, a director of multiple episodes of Fielder’s “Nathan for You” as well as of the 2020 “Borat” sequel, encountered his subject after Goldman tweeted at Woliner indicating that he had a story that badly needed dramatization. Taking inspiration from Goldman’s book, which makes outsized characterizations of his ex-wife’s motives and behavior, Woliner begins shooting a fictionalized version of the Goldman tale, with actors playing everyone but Goldman, who plays himself.

Goldman’s story begins with his meeting a woman who proposes, first, that they pursue marriage and, second, that they only live as a married couple for part of the week. In his telling a trusting optimist, Goldman accedes, all before, his frustration growing, he uncovers a web of untruth.

Having Goldman play out his story seems at first like a scheme worthy of “Nathan for You,” the series on which Fielder placed notably odd or curious people in situations designed to prise out their unique qualities. Here, though, the game seems a little too obvious, as there’s no second beat here, no reason to have Goldman play it all out other than to explore an unusual personality. For a show with a premise that seems chewily self-referential, here, too much of the motivation in finding Goldman a perfect subject seems to exist on the surface.

And Goldman’s story vanishes as it’s being told. Its strange details matter far less than his aggressive self-belief and his unusual personal qualities; it’s hard not to notice that, for all his ambition to be on camera, he is gawky and awkward, because Woliner keeps drawing our eye to it. A disclaimer at the top of the series states that Goldman’s claims are “speculation or opinion.” But what he says has less bearing on the story than how he says it, or how Woliner can convert it into a metafiction so convoluted that it occasionally overshadows how fundamentally uninteresting the fiction itself is.

Whatever the truth of Goldman’s situation — the particulars of which unfold, slowly, into narration of grand crimes that Peacock would likely consider spoiler territory — he seems at times unaware that his utterances are being picked up, spit-shined into embarrassments, and presented to the viewer. At one point, he remarks, of the hacky adaptation of the story of his life, “It’s just a shame we’re not doing a movie, because that would mean… Oscar”; he regretfully concludes he’ll have to settle for an Emmy. Later, he rhetorically asks “Would I not have made a good pimp or what?” He trails off, muttering, “Giving instructions to the girls…”

The generous view of “Paul T. Goldman” might indicate that, in him, Woliner has found a vessel through which to explore our all-too-human delusions, our vanities and our tendency to be taken in too easily. And, in the era of “Nathan for You,” a show I admired greatly, I’d have been more susceptible to that view. But Woliner’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the production of which outright deceived at least one well-meaning person minding her own business, as well as Fielder’s subsequent series “The Rehearsal,” have soured me on this genre. “People are amazing” is a point that can be easily made — indeed, a point that until recently was made by a great percentage of narrative art — without drawing in people who erroneously think the camera, and the man behind it, is their friend.

“Paul T. Goldman” premieres Sunday, January 1, on Peacock.

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