While you’re watching Nathan Fielder’s newest HBO show The Rehearsal, you’ll most likely ask the following: What’s real? Nathan’s docuseries Nathan For You was a humorous look at this deadpan host who approached small businesses with various outrageous publicity stunts. The follow-up is a show about preparing people for upcoming events in their lives. The show opens rather awkwardly. Via Craigslist, Nathan has contacted a man named Kor. As Nathan enters Kor’s apartment, he makes a little quip about layout of the apartment. Something offhand and barely funny. After getting to know Kor a little bit better, Nathan drops a bombshell; he has been practicing this meeting with Kor for days. Under the guise of maintenance, Nathan’s crew entered Kor’s home to take pictures and then created a reproduction of the entire apartment in a warehouse. From there, Nathan practiced dozens of times interacting with an actor playing the part of Kor, down to the joke about the layout. It’s a trick Nathan’s lifted from his previous show: the art of transforming simple ideas into something you’d never expect.
The Rehearsal’s pilot episode is captivating from start to finish, but we can’t help but to feel intrusive in Kor’s life. He’s dreading telling his friend that he’s lied about his education. Nathan’s here to help him through an elaborate rehearsal. They’ve built an entire restaurant in the warehouse to simulate every event that could happen. A glimpse of Nathan’s laptop shows that the flowchart of possible conversations is 10 times as complicated than the laws of thermodynamics. I nervously shifted in my seat several times as Nathan unveiled more and more steps in his master plan. He’ll do anything to accomplish his goals, even if it’s unethical. This can range from lying to his subjects to outright manipulating them to do as he wishes.
Nathan’s recurring theme of loneliness continues in The Rehearsal (he’s dubbed “The Wizard of Loneliness” in Nathan For You). He’s clearly playing a caricature of himself, a socially awkward man completely unaware of the funny circumstances he’s “accidentally” created. There were many times in Nathan’s previous show where he showed more vulnerability than he intended. In one episode, Nathan hires an actress for a play he’s creating so patrons of a bar can smoke inside (long story, please watch Nathan For You). This actress reads her line to him, “I love you.” “Again,” Nathan says, seemingly dissatisfied with her reading. “I love you,” the actress repeats. “Again,” Nathan asks a little quieter. After a little back and forth, the actress points out that Nathan has tears in his eyes. For me, the best part of Nathan For You was the little truths leaking from the heavily constructed façade.
What parts of The Rehearsal are real and which aren’t? We shouldn’t know. All we’ll get it is a glimpse into the pain in we see in Nathan and his subjects. In the end, Kor will probably be okay. Will Nathan?