The Rehearsal just wrapped up its first season, written and directed by comedian Nathan Fielder. Taking the internet by storm with its Synecdoche NY vibes of recreating human interactions, The Rehearsal is a show that will get you to think.
At six episodes long, it starts off as a show about the comedy of anxiety. Nathan allows people to rehearse difficult conversations or life events by recreating situations with sets and actors. For example, a man tells Nathan he wants to confess a decades-long secret, and Nathan builds an entire replica of the bar this man frequents to recreate every possible outcome of this situation. That’s the premise of The Rehearsal at face value: practicing a moment you’re afraid to live out in every conceivable scenario.
What starts off as a docu-comedy about the anxieties people have morphs into something entirely different once viewers meet Angela, a lady who wants to rehearse being a parent. She describes her idyllic house, faith, type of spouse, and upbringing she would wish to have as a mother. Nathan rents out a house for her thanks to his seemingly unlimited HBO budget and hires child actors to replicate the 24/7 care of having a newborn (and rotates child actors every 4 hours to abide by child labor laws). Slowly, viewers are introduced to a rehearsal that sucks them into the interpersonal relationship of a creator and his subject.
Angela experiences numerous setbacks, from finding a co-parent to help raise her fake child, Adam, to not feeling engaged in Nathan’s crafted slice-of-life rehearsal for her. Robin, her possible surrogate father, is a reckless man who enjoys driving under the influence, seducing women who have set sexual boundaries, and boasts about surviving a car crash in his Scion at 110 mph. The Rehearsal is still comedic, but we’re laughing at how strange and awkward the complexities of maintaining a fake life for oneself are.
Through Angela, viewers see Nathan as not just the creative director of this show but seemingly as a person engaged in it. Nathan, terrified of having Angela alone in a house with Robin, makes light of the situation by following Robin around on his exploits. Viewers witness an awkward exchange as Nathan and Robin debate whether or not Robin can convince Angela to sleep with him because, “I can tell she’s just like into me like that.” Nathan is horrified by what he’s hearing, and his passive personality elicits laughter of nervousness as we hope Nathan ensures Angela’s safety. What ensues is a night where Nathan makes his tech people mimic and create a robot infant cry non-stop throughout the entire night.
It’s here we see a shift in what The Rehearsal is about. No longer is Nathan concerned with getting the most laughs out of morally dubious situations he’s crafted, but he’s explicitly placed himself within a fiction of his own creation. As Nathan struggles to figure out why Angela’s rehearsal keeps failing, thinking it’s because it’s not real enough, he decides to join her relationship as a co-parent.
This choice to step into his own show as not just a fabricator of his and Angela’s next couple of months but also as a chess piece within it is undescribable and unlike anything else on TV today. The barriers between his fiction and reality are wholly unfolded for viewers, making this show instantly feel nothing like people have seen before. Nathan pulls back the curtains of his production, showcasing the internal struggles of the people working with him. He hires actors to recreate the first episode scenarios to see what it would be like to work under him. He struggles to find believability in his own show and seeks out the answer.
By the final episode, viewers will have witnessed Nathan rehearse what it would be like to fight with a spouse through a staged argument with the actress Anna Lamadrid portraying Angela. In some of the most uncomfortable and visceral scenes of The Rehearsal, he has fake Angela argue with him about how his decision to join her as a co-parent during her rehearsal was selfish and manipulative. She scolds and yells about how Nathan has crafted a show that is seeking to secretly make fun of her when all is said and done. It’s an entirely improvised scene where you can see Nathan struggling to make any sort of comeback that doesn’t shed a poor light on him as a person. It’s a critique of himself, his project, and his sense of humor. A dramatization that is so full of self-awareness is mindboggling and fascinating. Finally, the fight ends, and we hear Nathan say something along the lines of, “let’s try this again, but a little less mean.” He worries about his relationship with Angela as a fake spouse, a fake father to their fictional child, as a director of this show, and as a person.
It’s beautiful to witness Nathan’s struggle for authenticity in front of the big screen. This isn’t due to seeing him confused or distressed but rather the philosophical beauty of seeing someone try so hard to understand another person. He is wrapped up in his perception of self, the perception of other people interacting with him, and the ramifications of his actions not just as a person but as a showrunner. In Episode 4, we see Nathan rehearse being one of the students in his own acting class. He takes up the same job, sleeps in that person’s bed, and hires an actor to play himself to see what it’s like to interact with a ‘fictional’ version of himself. It would be easy to write off Nathan and the antics on The Rehearsal as a gimmick, but if you look close enough, you’ll see someone trying to discover how the boundaries of TV can blur the lines of authentic human connection.
The Rehearsal is a multi-layered comedy that will certainly make you uncomfortable at times. It will beg the question of how far you are willing to go to understand another person. It will make you cringe and cackle. Fielder has masterfully created a show that viewers can re-watch, dissect, and discuss to great lengths over and over again.
The Rehearsal is now streaming on HBOMax.
Fielder has masterfully created a show that viewers can re-watch, dissect, and discuss to great lengths over and over again.