I don’t want to say too much about The Rehearsal, because I want for you to experience it the way that I did. I want you to sit through the laugh-out-loud opening five minutes of the first episode that offers an atrocious premise, which ultimately serves only to springboard into a spiraling, convoluted pseudo-documentary experience (I’d tell you to think along the lines of a real life Truman Show, but that only begins to cover the semi-real, semi-constructed social experiment Fielder has created) that blurs relationships, power dynamics, and even the very structure of the show.
The show’s creator, Nathan Fielder, is funny like no one else is funny, and is so difficult to describe in his distinct pull. He is a blank slate, he is a calm pool, he is awkward as can be, he is unflappable — not just in times of crisis, but in nearly any form of interaction. He mainly reacts with a muted calmness, hardly raising his voice when he’s upset, hardly sounding surprised when he’s incredulous. It’s an energy that strangely borders on the charismatic (in fact, so much so that a recent article detailing Nathan Fielder’s appeal is titled simply “Your Girlfriend Thinks About Nathan Fielder When She’s Fucking You” — it really doesn’t get more direct than that), though in a way that is hard to describe or put your finger on. He is like the Eric Andre of extreme calm, a bouncing board for the people he surrounds himself with, genuinely awkward and peculiar around people who are often genuinely awkward and peculiar themselves. This actually seems to be a thread of Fielder’s work, particularly in Nathan For You and The Rehearsal. So often his mutually strange interactions tap into a beautiful and funny picture of humanity; we all are, in our own ways, peculiar and awkward people, so complex and so simple all at once.
The Rehearsal is funny in that special Nathan Fielder way: his ability to — just by being his flat, unassuming self — pull out deeply unexpected energies and personalities from those that he works with. But it also rocks me to my core existentially on a regular basis. The Rehearsal takes the objective truth that we only have one life and tries to cheat it. What if you could practice your most pivotal life moments? Game the system so you know every possible outcome and possible reaction in your big familial conflict, or that argument with a friend, or the raising of your child? What if you could practice it down to the last detail, in a replica of your local bar or in your dream home in rural Oregon, in the midst of a collection of differently aged child actors, people acting as your real-life brother, or pretend spouses?
I don’t want to get into how these all tie together, nor do I want to explicate how messy and beyond the original premise it gets. This is partially because I don’t want to spoil it, partially because The Rehearsal gets so beyond convoluted I wouldn’t be able to describe all the atrocious layers that end up on top of one another in a review format.
I was not permitted access to the final episode to watch before the official release, so I must admit that in seeing the twists upon twists of the season, I still anticipate even bigger ones coming, ones that may deem parts of this review inaccurate — the full picture is ever-expanding and ever-changing, in that big-brained, abstract, strange, highly controlling yet highly ridiculous Nathan Fielder way. Yet at the end of the day, with as many twists and turns as it may take, The Rehearsal speaks to something so small, to that tiny spiritual twinge within us all that asks: Am I doing this all wrong? How would I ever know? Why am I not offered more chances?
The Rehearsal finds the weirdest possible way to go about answering this existential question. It yields not so much results, but instead more of a fascinating experience. It’s funny like it intends to be, but also so strange, off-putting, and beautiful (sometimes all at once) that I occasionally forget to laugh, too entranced by the places it ends up going. Risky praise for a comedy show, I suppose, but I feel it may make sense when you see what The Rehearsal pulls off.