‘The Rehearsal’ review: Nathan Fielder gets weirder in new HBO series

Photo courtesy of IMDb.

By Matt Kyle | Assistant News Editor

*Disclaimer: This review contains show spoilers.*

Much like Nathan Fielder’s previous show, “Nathan For You,” HBO’s “The Rehearsal” will leave you simultaneously dying of laughter, cringing and wondering how Fielder is able to pull any of this off — legally and ethically.

“The Rehearsal” sees Fielder build elaborate sets and hire actors to help supposed real people rehearse for different difficult situations in their lives. Fielder recreates different areas, like a bar and a Raising Cane’s restaurant down to every minute detail, and hires actors to play family and friends of the people rehearsing. Fielder manages to create an experience as authentic as the real thing, a true rehearsal for everyday life.

While “Nathan For You” may have had some crazy moments with Fielder’s terrible business advice, being on HBO allows Fielder to kick his patented craziness into overdrive; with “The Rehearsal,” Fielder delivers a strangely wonderful, absurdly funny show that makes him equal parts a terrible person and comedic genius.

The premise of “The Rehearsal” is perhaps what is most genius about the show, as Fielder leans into absurdity to blur reality and fiction. Going into it having seen “Nathan For You,” I expected Fielder’s new show to be similar, with Fielder taking on a new client and rehearsing a different situation in each episode. The first episode, “Orange Juice, No Pulp,” sets the show up to be just that as Fielder helps a man prepare to confess to a friend that he faked his master’s degree, which concludes by the end of the episode.

But the second episode, “Scion,” subverted my expectations in the best way. By the end of the episode, Fielder has inserted himself into the rehearsal. A devout Christian woman, Angela, is rehearsing motherhood before actually becoming a mother herself. She lucks out of finding a husband on Tinder, so Fielder becomes her “non romantic co-parent,” and enters the experiment, testing out fatherhood for himself, a plotline that continues for the rest of the series.

Fielder continues acting in the rehearsal even after Angela herself leaves, dedicating himself to experiencing Angela’s authentic rehearsal. Why? Because it’s outrageously funny. Fielder becomes a character in his own show, which is supposed to be some representation of reality, but Fielder’s reality is objectively absurd.

He has a grown man dress up as a toddler and play with him, then films him in costume hitting a vape. He and Angela get into arguments over the Satanic origins of Halloween, the adult nature of fart jokes and he even instructs the actor playing their now teenage son (long story) to act rebellious just to create a more authentic experience. Through all of this, Fielder practices for arguing with Angela by hiring an actor and creating a set of their living room.

While I’m sure many of the people featured in the show are more in on the joke than we realize, just like his last show, in “The Rehearsal,” Fielder really pushes the boundary of how messed up something can be while still being hilarious.

Much like “Nathan For You,” Fielder manages to find standout people, real oddballs, true characters, to interact with. Angela was television gold. Her rehearsal for motherhood required an extensive number of child actors to be swapped out and replaced with robot babies (due to child labor laws), and her strict religious adherence led to some truly funny moments as she clashed with Nathan’s attempts to raise their son as both Jewish and Christian.

If you’ve seen the finale, you know the part of the show with the most questionable ethics comes in the last episode. I won’t spoil much, but Fielder could potentially screw someone up for life with this show. It’s all for a bit, and it’s pretty messed up. And honestly? It’s hilarious.

Fielder stars, as always, as himself, a weirdly off-putting, monotone Canadian man of mystery. Whoever Nathan Fielder truly is, it’s a mystery. His act and performance as himself is surreal, and hard to tell where the line between fiction and reality has been drawn.

Fielder’s public persona is an obvious bit. No one is that weird. But when does he drop the act? When is Nathan Fielder actually himself?

The craziest part about Fielder’s character, and his role in “The Rehearsal,” is how strangely relatable it all is. Who wouldn’t want to rehearse their life, and have total control over how it will go? Even if it is a little weird, wouldn’t you want to know all outcomes of a situation, reduce all uncertainty and remove all your anxiety?

It is this weirdness that makes “The Rehearsal” so good. With season two confirmed, I’m looking forward to more uncomfortably hilarious cringe comedy. “The Rehearsal,” as well as Fielder’s previous show, “Nathan For You,” are both streaming on HBOMax. I definitely recommend checking out this surreal, beautiful, strange, twisted and funny series.