Season 1, Episode 5, “Apocalypto”

Nathan Fielder in rehearsal

Nathan Fielder inside The rehearsal
Photo: Thanks to HBO

“Nathan has a problem with lying. He lies a lot.”

At this point in the season of The rehearsalAngela’s sentence feels less like an accusation and more like an understatement. And that’s before we spent much of the episode watching him convince the young actor that he was playing his made-up-now-a-child-again son Adam to pretend he was attending swimming lessons when in reality he was behind Angela’s back to learn about Judaism. (In case you forgot, Angela has very, very strong feelings about her faith, as we are) remembered almost every five seconds in this episode; honestly, if you’ve made a drinking game around taking a shot every time she says Jesus, you might not make it through the whole “Apocalypto”.)

But back to Nathan’s lies. We could probably say it got worse over the season, but then episode one ended up rehearsing a confession that he forced someone to unknowingly cheat, only to see Fielder refuse to confess at all. make it and give it a pat instead. The rehearsal is built, in concept and in execution, on a system of lies. It’s not just the authentic improv-like imitations that the rehearsals call for, but also the many steps that lead to such performances (let’s not forget that his acting requires a light stalking).

The shady ethics of the whole enterprise is not for me to judge – although you may be able to guess where I stand – but that’s mainly because I’m less interested in such a black-and-white discourse and more fascinated by the way the show so clearly wants us to have those conversations. For someone so fixated on how they come across and carefully attuned to how people’s behavior can be refined with enough practice, if not a simple awareness of how they live their lives – not to mention someone literally scripting and directing these episodes – all these moments of ignorance can’t help but seem like a build-up to… a semblance of self-actualization, right?

“We can’t always choose what happens in life,” Fielder notes toward the end of the episode. “We get to decide whether we rehearse for it.”

The smell of self-help rhetoric should give us all a break. Not because the idea of ​​preparing for important events in our lives is not a viable approach to self-improvement. But because, for Fielder, rehearsal is more of a crutch than anything else. Also, that royal “we” being used does a lot of heavy lifting. Very slowly, as we have learned, The rehearsal has become less of a show about helping a collective “we” (or a singular “them”) deal with what can happen in life, but an excuse to have Fielder grapple with his own life decisions (and hangups and insecurities and fears). I’d say the show is a season-long game about the lengths straight men will go to avoid therapy, but that almost feels like a too light-hearted riff on that popular meme.

But how else can he explain his decision to use Angela’s rehearsal as a place to avoid falling into the same “old habits” that plagued his previous relationships? I will say that recognizing such patterns (while talking to his parents, no less!) visual sense of his insularity) was a moment where I wondered if I shouldn’t see Fielder as some Gotham villain in the making ( hey, he now has his own HBO funded bar!) and instead as a melancholy loner. But once that empathetic feeling flares up, I have to think that he is still the boss here. He has a whole cast at his disposal. A crew that has it and will build whatever it pleases. Even the support of HBO.

Nathan Fielder in rehearsal

Nathan Fielder inside The rehearsal
Photo: Thanks to HBO

I am of course curious how Fielders himself will now come to the conclusion of the involved project. Will there be another meta twist? Will we see him learn something about himself that many of his viewers (and critics and fans and reviewers and recappers) may have already theorized? Will this ouroboros from a docuseries eat himself while Fielder plays parenthood, for no other reason than maybe he thinks he should?

Are these too many questions? Do I need to offer sharper critiques of a show that seems expressly designed to constantly infuriate and engage its viewers? Perhaps. But for now, I’d rather sit with my thoughts and keep wondering how Fielder is going to wrap this all up.

stray observations

  • Wanting to turn away from a discussion of Judaism with a benign question like “What’s your favorite movie?” just to get Angela to answer Mel Gibson’s apocalypto(!) broke my brain. Is this a “you can’t make this up” moment? Because it was almost too perfect.
  • Such moments, scripted or not, touch on one of the aspects of The rehearsal I haven’t had a chance to go into it too much: this is a very funny show. Sure, the humor is very cringy at times and certainly fuels a sense of discomfort in the viewers, but I find myself downright cackling several times per episode. (The line “I look” Key & Peele!” I cried, just like Dr. Fart that made me think Adam could grow up to be a great one TGS staff writer.) And no matter how you feel about Nathan, he’s a great straight guy.
  • Okay, I know if Fielder hadn’t decided to flip Angela’s rehearsal, we probably would have focused more on it, but it’s kind of crazy how she barely adhered to the fake reality of her parenting rehearsal, isn’t it? Right? It’s in those moments that I wonder what we might have learned about Angela and her approach to rehearsal if the show allowed for more conventional talking heads/confessional moments. Instead (as he points out in voiceover) it was hard to tell when she was role-playing and when she was actually (and truly) committed to the piece.
  • Can we also give up on Anna LaMadrid, who really nailed her performance as Fake Angela? I need these different actors to find a way to turn their perfect impersonations into better performances.

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