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Recommended: The Rehearsal on HBO

Nathan Fielder takes the-show-within-a-show to demented new heights.
  • Nathan Fielder in The Rehearsal (Photo: HBO)
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    The Rehearsal | HBO
    Half-hour Comedy (6 Episodes) | TV-MA

    What's The Rehearsal About?

    Nathan Fielder — the test-tube baby of Andy Kaufman — helps people make major life decisions by creating a simulated version of their environment and then stage-managing their behavior inside it.

    Who's involved?

    • In his Comedy Central series Nathan For You, Nathan Fielder acted as a sort of anti-Marcus Lemonis, pitching offbeat solutions to struggling businesses. Some of them were dumb, some were oddly genius. With The Rehearsal he's still problem-solving, but this time it's more inward-focused. Now he's helping people prepare for big decisions, like how to disclose a troubling secret to an old friend or whether to become a mom. He does this by building sets and hiring actors to recreate his subject's real-world environment, which he micromanages down to the last detail.
    • Fielder is paired with writer-producers Dave Paige and Clark Reinking. Fielder and Reinking also worked together on HBO's comedy-documentary hybrid How To With John Wilson, and it's safe to say that everyone who liked that show is probably going to enjoy this one as well.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    HBO publicity doesn't want us to say much about what happens over the course of this show's six-episode run, but it's a disservice to the viewer to pretend this is just a more personalized version of Nathan For You. Though familiar tropes reappear throughout The Rehearsal — elaborately constructed simworlds, actors playing ordinary people — this is not just a series of episodic stunts.

    It's more of a dramedy in six acts. As the show's arc develops, the focus shifts away from the people Fielder claims to be helping and more toward Fielder himself. At one point he hires another actor to play "Nathan Fielder," then he lightens his hair and changes clothes in a patently ridiculous attempt to observe himself.

    Tonally, The Rehearsal is of a piece with How To With John Wilson (which Fielder produced). Both shows start with a familiar reality premise that is eventually sacrificed to the creator's own agenda. In the case of The Rehearsal, the agenda is not always clear and takes on almost a free-association quality starting with the third episode. This will be fine for some viewers who enjoy watching the elaborate deceptions that Fielder and his production crew engage in to keep their simworld going, but ultimately it comes down to what you think of Nathan Fielder and his inward musings. Some viewers may tire of his gonzo navel-gazing and be frustrated that none of the subsequent episodes of The Rehearsal follow the design of the pilot.

    Pairs well with

    • Mind Over Murder (Netflix): Another structurally audacious program, this true-crime docuseries uses local actors to portray their neighbors involved in a Nebraska murder.
    • Joe Pera Talks With You (HBO Max): Someone at Warner Discovery needs to explain why this show was cancelled. A calming masterwork of deflection.
    • Andy Kaufman Complete Collection on Letterman (YouTube): To understand Nathan Fielder's comedic roots, immerse yourself in Don Giller's curated supercut of the late Andy Kaufman in a dozen fully-committed, "is it an act or isn't it" performances from the first year and a half of David Letterman's NBC show.

  • The Rehearsal
    Premieres on HBO and HBO Max July 15 at 11:00 PM ET. New episodes Fridays through August. 19.
    Created by: Nathan Fielder, Dave Paige, and Clark Reinking.
    Starring: Nathan Fielder.
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    TOPICS: The Rehearsal, HBO, Clark Reinking, Dave Paige, Nathan Fielder, Nathan Fielder