The Pitch: Comedy has long mined the rich vein of desire running within most average citizens for fame — or at least some kind of recognition. That yen for the spotlight is what allowed ’60s duo Coyle and Sharpe and modern day bellower Billy Eichner to turn “man on the street” interviews into improvised gold and fed the creation of far too many prank shows.
It’s also a craving that Nathan Fielder has spent the last decade twisting to absurdist ends, both on his acclaimed Comedy Central series Nathan For You and in his behind-the-scenes work on shows like How To with John Wilson and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America? In each one, everyday people willingly put themselves under the eye of a TV camera, often revealing too much of themselves in the process. The results are either damning, heartwarming, or simply ridiculous.
The brilliance of Nathan For You was how Fielder served as a valence in each episode, using his dry presence and out-of-the-box ideas to affect the businesses and people he was meant to help. In Season 1, for example, he attempted to both get new customers for a struggling pizzeria and get the owner to include him in her will. Fielder’s presence only got larger as the series went on, as in the fantastic fourth season installment where he went to insane lengths to create a wild story he could use as an anecdote for his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
The Rehearsal (HBO)
Fielder looms just as large in his incredible new series The Rehearsal. As with Nathan For You, the supposed goal of the show is to help real people prepare for difficult conversations or big life changes by putting them through a practice session with actors posing as loved ones, friends, and bystanders. But as the first season wears on, Fielder, playing a needy and insecure version of himself, becomes as much a part of the rehearsals as the folks he is supposedly assisting, and uses these interactions to reflect on his existential woes. Be prepared for many shots of Fielder staring off into the distance with a look of pained contemplation on his face.
Is There Something You’re Avoiding? While those moments provide the beating heart of The Rehearsal, the comedy often comes via the outsized personalities of the clients Fielder works with, and the outrageous lengths he goes to in hopes of achieving their goals.
The opening episode centers on a geeky New Yorker who wishes to fess up to a prickly member of his bar trivia team that he doesn’t have an advanced degree. Simple enough, yes? In Fielder’s hands, it becomes a Herculean effort involving a meticulous reconstruction of the bar where the confession is to take place, stocks it with extras, and has his client go through the evening multiple times in order to be prepared for any possible scenario.