The Rehearsal

4 out of 5

Created by: Nathan Fielder

covers season 1

I have never been so deliriously discomforted by a show than when watching The Rehearsal. Even knowing Nathan Fielder’s previous works, I could not possibly comprehend how bizarrely uncomfortable things would get, and how many times I would be asking myself: what the hell is going on?

Also: I loved The Rehearsal. It is one of the most insane and brilliant things I’ve ever seen. Also also, for those already cringing, I don’t think Nathan’s comedy is strictly of the school of finding humor in embarrassment. Setting himself very much as the focal point of the discomfort – he is the odd man out – it avoids laughing at the others directly / indirectly involved, and instead mines its comedy from the completely backwards nature of being human. This is a very tricky balance, but one that Fielder is careful to maintain, because he ultimately does seem like a nice guy, and is not out to ridicule. So when The Rehearsal proposes to help its participants with some long-going concern by rehearsing the various outcomes – a more extensive version of Nathan For You‘s solves – there’s inherent funniness in observing recognizable foibles, but that’s only a starting point from an amusing premise, as Nathan builds elaborate sets to mimic the places where various conversations may take place, and hires actors to mimic the participants, and then hires actors to play himself so he can experience the rehearsals from other perspectives, and then begins to worry that his role may be forcing events down a certain path and so begins to participate in his own rehearsals for the rehearsals…

Your head may spin. At multiple points, you might wonder how much of this is real, noting that each episode has credited writers – though that’s not so odd in an era of scripted “reality” TV – and then questioning the morality of kid actors participating in a rehearsal where they’re acting as the variously aged children of Angela, whose rehearsal involves practicing motherhood and who “co-parents” with Nathan, everyone stepping in and out of their “roles” confusingly, Fielder going all-in with his socially uncomfortable persona / personality, resulting in long stretches where everything said is either hilarious or tragic, who can tell.

My god, it’s amazing.

The structure of the six episodes is, by admitted necessity, it’s only hitch: the majority of the season revolves around Angela’s rehearsal, which is incredibly complex – they escalate the timeline of her parenting, but the experience is (as presented to us) intended to be immersive, so they swap out the children secretly in order to mimic their ageing… – but jumping right into that would likely not allow it full effect, since the proposal would firstly seem too absurd without some setup. So we spend the beginning part on comparatively smaller rehearsals, but that suggests the show will be more episodic than it is; I found it a little disappointing to realize that we were only going to be seeing the Angela rehearsal after a certain point, but also hooked to see how the heck Fielder was going to keep this shtick (/ reality?) going. And in that latter sense, hoo boy, it does not disappoint.

I love that there are articles trying to assess how much of the series was legit, but then also somewhat concluding with: does it matter? It is the ultimate meta joke in that sense, that the desire to pull it apart is part of proving that it “worked,” and then when you have the pieces, and no desire to put them back together… that’s also pretty funny. Or sad. So maybe just watch the show again, with someone else along to witness, passing the infection of Fielder’s comedy onward, forevermore.