Over the past few years, HBO and its streaming service, HBO Max, have increasingly released non-traditional comedy shows. After the first two seasons of the New York-based documentary-style show “How To With John Wilson” and the revival of the Comedy Central series “Joe Pera Talks With You”, Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder’s “The Rehearsal” is the last in the series. the platform’s attempt to amass a specific audience that enjoys goofy, deadpan docu-comedies.
Unlike its predecessors and previous television work, Fielder’s new show pushes the boundaries of comedy by turning people’s personal lives in a darker, unpredictable direction. And once the chuckles have died down, we’re left to ponder: what did we just watch?
Unlike its predecessors and previous television work, Fielder’s new show pushes the boundaries of comedy by turning people’s personal lives in a darker, unpredictable direction.
Ahead of the premiere, Fielder — who directed, wrote and starred in ‘The Rehearsal’ — sparked fan theories about the show’s exact premise through mysterious video monitor teasers and a promotional poster he’s sitting in. at a table with dolls. Many were asking, “What is it exactly? »
Turns out, it’s pretty much all in the name. In its first season, which airs Friday on HBO Max, the show asks the question: what would it be like to control complicated life scenarios through intricate planning? In other words, a “rehearsal” of sorts.
Although the premise of the series seems quite psychological, it’s where Fielder honed his style of comedy – which also relies on others to play along.
Before teaming up with HBO, Fielder amassed a fanbase with the Comedy Central series “Nathan for You,” which ran from 2013 to 2017. There, he approached real small businesses with bad ideas on purpose, with the intention of finding humor in people’s reactions. With a larger budget and the potential to reach a wider audience, the stakes for “The Rehearsal” are higher. For contrast, where Fielder once dressed up as an elf to help a mall Santa find summer work in “Nathan for You,” in “The Rehearsal” he creates a simulation for a woman to do the experience of raising a teenager who uses drugs.
In the first episode of “The Rehearsal,” Fielder’s team builds a replica of a man’s house and a New York living room where he regularly plays trivia games to make the man feel more at home. comfortable confessing a lie to his teammate. The series describes the extensive work that goes into making these two replicas, down to the smallest detail. As far as the viewer knows, Fielder and his HBO crew were able to recreate the man’s home in a warehouse under cover of a gas company checking for a leak. It provides a unique perspective to the show by making it clear how much Fielder wants to perfect the repetition of subject matter. Yet, as budgets only stretch so far, his team ultimately opts for already-built locations, including a Raising Cane’s.
The darkest points of the series sometimes felt overwhelming.
Where films such as “The Truman Show” and “Synecdoche, New York” tackle the themes of building (and living in) a simulated reality for a long time, “The Rehearsal” goes even further: in the real world with participants. Or, as the trivia player describes in the episode, Fielder is a Willy Wonka type, and he’s Charlie Bucket, to which Fielder responds, “Am I the bad guy in this? »
Sometimes it is. Or rather, the concept of Fielder trying to help others gain control by controlling them himself oscillates between comedy and light manipulation. As the series progresses, things get tense when the people in the simulations realize they’re the joke. On separate occasions he was called an “awful, awful person”, shouted at and accused of starting fights.
For what it’s worth, Fielder seems to understand he’s playing with fire a bit. During one of the episodes, he tells a group of actors who will be playing roles in the simulation what is at stake: “With this show, if your performance isn’t accurate, you could ruin the life of somebody. »
In a recent Vulture interview about the series, he seemed to think the risk was worth it. “It’s kind of universal that people want to be in control of their lives,” he said. “There is something really funny about this compulsion. »
Given this need for control, the show’s darkest points felt overwhelming at times.
At the end of each episode, you ask yourself questions: what does this say about our own existence? Do we want, or even should, test the waters of a situation beforehand? Or would the result of diving into the unknown be even more destructive? In this way, viewers become part of the social experience Fielder has concocted.
It’s hard to say whether “The Rehearsal” will continue for multiple seasons or even provide viewers with the answers to these questions in the finale, as only the first five of six episodes were available for preview. Yet even that speaks to the nature of the show. As Fielder attempts to predict how people will react to the conversations, audiences become less able to determine where the shifting premise will end.
While new audiences may be initially confused, it’s nothing new for Fielder fans tuning in. And what can only be considered a good thing is that Nathan Fielder’s brand of unpredictability that seems to be in overdrive in “The Rehearsal” will surely be a conversation starter that stands the test of time. of television.