Nathan Fielder’s ‘The Rehearsal’: The Closest We’ve Come To ‘The Truman Show’
There’s been a lot of talk about Nathan Fielder this week, specifically some have claimed that his new series The Rehearsal is “exploitative” and “cruel” – and while these criticisms may be valid to some extent, we should point out that this particular avenue of discourse was sparked by the show’s depiction of this friggin’ guy:
But sure, Fielder has made a career out of giving bad advice to real people – and while a certain amount of deception is seemingly involved behind-the-scenes, ultimately, in Nathan For You, Fielder was generally upfront with participants, laying out his ridiculous plans in practical terms with a straight face. If there was one broad, overarching takeaway from Nathan For You, it was that you really shouldn’t blindly follow the advice of a stranger just because they have access to a camera crew and own a tie.
But as it went on, Nathan For You began to tackle weightier themes; the nature of heroism, the absurdity of mass media, how to cope with the pain of regret and failure.
The Rehearsal similarly asks significant philosophical questions, but in a format that involves documenting, and yeah occasionally ridiculing, real people. Upon further thought, maybe the best comparison point for The Rehearsal is The Truman Show – not the movie, but the show The Truman Show, the one that exists within the world of the movie. Both Fielder and Ed Harris’ character Christof strive to create perfect replicas of the real world, be it a fully-functional seaside town –
Both architects of their retrospective realities create scripts and storylines for real people to engage with. And the deleted scene in which Christof plans the first on-air conception –
– came pretty close to happening in The Rehearsal. Fielder (or rather, his put-on TV persona) has the same ambition as Christof; to control reality, to quantify the human experience and replicate it for his own personal gratification. Look, Fielder might be a dick, but at least it’s in the service of a project that’s interrogating fundamental questions of existence in a way that few other shows are capable of.
And Fielder’s (for lack of a better term) character will likely discover throughout the course of the show, like Christof does in The Truman Show, that these things can’t be controlled. There is an intangible power to the world that, even when backed by the resources of a premium cable television network, can’t be duplicated. In the first three episodes, already, we’ve seen that no matter how meticulously Fielder attempts to tame and anticipate the flow of events through his “rehearsals,” the universe is too full of unpredictable variables.
Today, the Truman-esqe victims aren’t kidnapped and kept in the dark about the nature of their reality. The subjects, aside from a certain amount of deception and unflattering editing, are still willing participants. Unlike Truman, these people are happy to be subjected to Fielder’s existential experiments – because they get to be on TV that way.
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Thumbnail: HBO/Paramount Pictures