“The Rehearsal” Series Review: Nathan Fielder’s Intrepid Meditation on Human Consciousness

A stellar reality TV satire that lays bare our emotional insecurities and anxieties, but will leave you feeling a little more in love and forgiving of people in general.

A stellar reality TV satire that lays bare our emotional insecurities and anxieties, but will leave you feeling a little more in love and forgiving of people in general.

Nathan Fielder in his latest HBO show turns the world (rural Oregon to be precise) into a stage and all men into mere players (yes, that includes you). Coming into the show, we know that Repetition is a six-episode HBO show created and directed by Fielder of Nathan for you celebrity. Once we finish all six episodes, that’s still the one thing we’ll be sure of.

The show which positions itself as a reality TV show documents Nathan trying to get ordinary people to repeat certain aspects or events of their lives under controlled circumstances. The Canadian comic believes that would leave participants well-versed to deal with reality.

Rehearsals typically include the creation of elaborate installations; in one episode, the team recreates winter (yes, the snow season). The participants work with actors within the confines of these installations, and the rehearsals stretch according to the situation to be rehearsed, some even lasting 24 hours a day for five whole weeks. Nathan attempts to fake all the possible outcomes of said situation; he doesn’t even let non-verbal cues (which are sometimes ignored in real life) slip by.

Repetition

Creator: Nathan Fielder

Cast: Nathan Fielder, Thomas McNamara, Anna Lamadrid, Gigi Burgdorf

Episodes: 6

Script: Nathan Fielder navigates an uncertain world by giving ordinary people the opportunity to rehearse for their own lives.

While this may seem overwhelming to someone unfamiliar with Canadian comic book work, the first episode of the series does a pretty good job of familiarizing audiences with the format. The episode begins with Nathan visiting Kor, a trivia lover who wants to repeat a confession he is about to make to his trivia friend. Kor explains that he lied to them about having a master’s degree and hopes to be honest. However, he fears that a friend, Trisha, will take the news badly.

While planning Kor’s rehearsal, it is revealed that Nathan rehearsed his very first encounter with Kor as he admits he is socially awkward and a rehearsal felt like a safety net.

The rehearsals of the second episode are larger than life. A round-the-clock simulation of parenthood is created for Angela, 44, a devout Christian who plans to adopt a child with a partner in the future. She’s the poster child of the conservative American who believes Google is run by Satan, takes aromatherapy seriously, and likely votes Republican.

(Spoilers for episodes 2-6 ahead.)

She soon finds a date (who crashed her Scion at 100 mph) to attend rehearsal to raise their child. Child actors are hired to play the child, and a robot baby who mimics the sleeping habits of a real baby replaces the actors at night, as Oregon labor laws prevent child actors from working at night. The date soon loses sleep over the robot baby’s screams and leaves rehearsal; Nathan, like the gentleman he wants us to think he is, steps into the shoes of the Scion-crasher to make sure he gives Angela all the experience.

Their child, Adam, is set to age three years every week until he turns 18. They adjust to their new life in rural Oregon quite well, and the rehearsal begins smoothly. Nathan, also the show’s director, while running his own rehearsal, continues to organize rehearsals for those in need and occasionally lets Adam follow. Soon he is plunged into a rabbit hole of rehearsals because nothing he does seems to lead him to truly understand the participants and elicit a real reaction from them.

The number of rehearsals gets so out of hand that he proposes a fake acting school in Los Angeles to train actors in the “Fielder method” to help him. Under this method of acting, actors are expected to observe (stalk) their subjects to prepare to play them eventually. Each situation he creates only pushes him to hold more rehearsals, turning the show into a Russian doll (the toy, not the show) of rehearsals. His rehearsals cross paths and in the process Nathan loses the plot – he ends up not contributing enough to his own rehearsal which causes him to end all rehearsals to focus only on the one he has with Angela and Adam . However, Angela soon quits the show as she realizes that the repetition has only become the satisfaction of Nathan’s needs.

In the season finale, Nathan’s actions catch up with him when one of the child actors, Remy, who does not live with a father, refuses to leave the set and change his wardrobe as he believes he has really learned to love Nathan like a dad. Nathan also admits that he is unable to recreate the bond they shared with any other child actor despite his best efforts. However, Nathan still doesn’t realize the error in his ways and sets up another rehearsal with a child actor who looks like Remy to figure out where Remy is from.

Despite all the roadblocks and obstacles, he still seems to believe that repetition is the best way to approach his problems and remains committed to his method despite creating many victims in the process. This seriousness and commitment to the process makes the show stand out.

The show is a stellar satire of reality TV. The power of the camera – something that functions almost like a digital panopticon – is highlighted – a concept that finds mention in his earlier work. In fact, the basics of Repetition dates back to the series finale of Nathan for you where Nathan asks a participant to rehearse a situation to be better prepared.

In December 2021, The New York Times highlighted a quiet revolution in comedy that’s ushered in by the likes of Sasha Baron Cohen and John Wilson — comedy that captures the awkward behavioral quirks we most often try to hide, the ‘real’ one. Repetition puts Nathan at the forefront of this revolution.

The awkwardness of human existence that is often shrugged off in the post-production of most reality shows is left to linger onscreen through the show’s editing. However, one question that lends brevity to this satirical attempt is whether the show’s characters are playing themselves or playing out a well-rehearsed storyline. The NDAs signed by the participants let very little slip by keeping the mystery intact.

All six episodes do a spectacular job of laying bare the emotional insecurities and anxieties that crawl under our skin, making us realize that the series is ultimately full of heart; it will leave you a bit more loving and forgiving towards people in general.

Rehearsal is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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