These days, it’s hard to know whether a series is legitimately worth your time or simply casting a large shadow. But rest assured, HBOs The Rehearsal isn’t just worth the watch. Blurring the lines between satire and social experiment, and pushing boundaries with the gotcha-mentary format popularized by Boratit may very well be modern television at its finest.
Created and directed by Nathan Fielder (Important Things With Demetri Martin, Who’s America?) – the comedian also takes center stage in this subversive reality format – HBO’s The Rehearsal draws inspiration from Fielder’s other hit series Nathan For You.
Due to the unpredictability of ambushing the everyday person with scripted comedy, during the planning phase of production for Nathan For YouFielder and his team would role-play scenarios in an attempt to anticipate the spectrum of reactions they’d receive — an exercise that proved hilariously inaccurate time after time.
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That’s precisely the Truman Show-esque premise that powers HBO’s The Rehearsal. Following in the tradition established by Nathan For Youa completely deadpan Fielder ventures forth to help ordinary people rehearse the difficult parts of life via extraordinarily elaborate means before the real attempt.
We’re talking detailed replicas of physical environments, including a mediocre New York City bar known as the Alligator Lounge (which cost more to construct than the actual bar’s total value)… an entire legion of all-too-willing actors at the series’ disposal, ready to run through the hypotheticals… conversation flowcharts to limit the inherent chaos of otherwise milquetoast interactions… and insanely complex stratagems to manipulate reality at will beyond the staging warehouse.
“It’s sort of universal that people want to have control over their lives,” Nathan Fielder told Vulture.
“There’s something really funny to that compulsion.”
In the first episode, Nathan Fielder is welcomed into the home of divorced school teacher Kor Skeete. Over a decade ago, Mr Skeete song about earning a master’s degree to his bar trivia team/closest friends. Everyone else in the team holds an advanced degree and he’d apparently felt insecure enough to partake in this low-stakes charade. But now, it was time to confess.
Before a game plan had even been outlined, it’s revealed that weeks earlier, Fielder had sent a surveillance team disguised as gas company inspectors to infiltrate Skeete’s apartment and document the interior. The intel was then used to build an identical apartment – eerily identical, might I add – thereby allowing Fielder to rehearse their first encounter with an actor. And that pretty much sets the tone of The Rehearsal.
The stakes are raised by a ridiculous margin thereafter when Fielder orchestrates a child rearing experiment for a woman with questionable personal beliefs named Angela. Placing his subject in her dream home – a countryside estate in Ohio designed to facilitate a self-sustaining lifestyle – the simulation involved the hiring of dozens of child actors, switched out every four hours around the clock to abide by the state’s child labor laws; supplemented by a creepy robot baby during the evening that roused on demand.
Every week, the child “aged” a few years to provide an abridged version of parenthood, while a custom mirror digitally aged Fielder’s face to maintain the illusion that time is indeed passing. How Angela’s arc progresses will likely render you breathless, eyes brimming with tears, wondering what we possibly did to deserve entertainment of this caliber.
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At a glance, one could easily misconstruct The Rehearsal as being nothing more than cruel, arrogant, and manipulative. But that would be missing the point. In between the laughter, there’s an ever-present and overwhelmingly endearing element of humanity. A desire to belong. A desire to connect. To understand the self.
Stripped of its seemingly limitless budget courtesy of HBO, and beneath its layers of meta absurdity, The Rehearsal is nothing more than an occasionally tragic/often cringe portrait of the human condition. We overthink until it paralyses our very being. We cheat for personal gain. We engage in deception, to both each other and ourselves, out of convenience and fear. Most importantly, we yearn to become better versions of ourselves. that’s the underlying philosophy here.
Keen to see if it lives up to the hype? HBOs The Rehearsal featuring Nathan Fielder is now streaming on Binge (new episodes every Saturday at 4 PM [AEST]).