As the creator of one of the strangest TV series of the last decade, Nathan Fielder became an alt-comedy superstar. It meant that someone was always going to give him a chance to make something truly strange. However, there is no doubt that The Rehearsal pushed us further than anyone might have anticipated. The resulting show is not just one of the best of the year, but arguably just completed one of the most upsetting five-episode stretches of all time. Despite this, we cannot wait to return to his strange vision of the world.
Fielder became famous for his odd experiments, which allowed Nathan For You to thrive. The parody/reality series allowed him to make fun of shows like Bar Rescue while finding himself in some truly interesting stories. His finale, Finding Frances, likely moved him to make more genuine connections. This context allows The Rehearsal to embrace its full potential. After a first episode that showcases the impeccable craft of his team, Fielder builds a bar for a man to practice telling his friends about a lie he’s perpetrated for years. His follow-up “rehearsal” becomes far more complicated, as Fielder attempts to simulate the experience of raising a child for a woman unsure of whether the experience will be worth it.
This absurd premise is just the beginning of The Rehearsal‘s incredible journey. Over the course of six episodes, Fielder imagines what it means to lie to friends, raise a child, deal with loss, find your place through imitation, what it means to miss important moments with your children if you are too obsessed with work, how to react to a drug overdose, how to raise your children in the Jewish faith, and perhaps most important, how to contextualize the roles we have in the lives of others. The emotional toll this must have taken on Fielder feels incalculable. Following his own divorce, he pours himself into the show, taking on a central role in a series of events that spiral into life’s biggest questions.
The ethical implications regarding the total control of his environment will be questioned for decades. Fielder uses this opportunity to skewer issues across every walk of life and finds genuine comedy. Yet, at the same time, he sets people up to look like idiots. On some level, The Rehersal owns part of its DNA to Borat, without ever delving into the characters that Baron-Cohen creates. Instead, Fielder holds power over every person on-screen and off-screen, creating a visual world of his own imagination. A joke early in the series compares Fielder to Willy Wonka, and the ensuing conversation implies there is something bad is occurring. Bty the time you watch the final 20 minutes of the series, you might agree.
It does not seem like Fielder had a single thesis for how he thought his show would turn out when he started. However, by the end, we are questioning the limits of modern entertainment on the world around us. After all, how far can we go to create entertainment before the stakes are too high? The line becomes extremely thin, and it is safe to assume that Fielder dances on both sides of it by the end of the show.
In a world where a reality TV-focused corporation bought the future of a legacy movie studio, it can be difficult to ignore that question. We all want our fifteen minutes, whether they occur on an episode of Survivor, a TikTok video, or on the local news. It can be difficult to remain unattached to stories that may ask us to get involved. Even when we do get involved, are the impacts of our actions going to be met with criticism or acceptance? As the questions continue to spiral out, Fielder finds himself questioning his entire reality. The parallels to The Truman Show and Synecdoche, New York become obvious.
Once again, Fielder has put himself on television’s largest stage. The odds of something like The Rehearsal finding a point were slim. Yet the show begs us to confront our feelings on dozens of ideas. As the series unfolds, it seemingly uses the “joke-a-minute” format to force its audience into an existential crisis. As Nathan runs through his scenarios, his process of rehearsal begins to reflect back on the audience. As we gawk and engage in voyeuristic behaviors, he pushes us to question if we are ready for the life events he stages. Through this process, it becomes clear that Fielder might be a genius.