Nathan Fielder’s Apology to the Past

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal, “Pretend Daddy.”]

The ongoing chatter online speculating on how Nathan Fielder could possibly wrap up the first season of his brilliant new series The Rehearsal tended to stick to variations on one theme: that everything we’ve been shown in the previous five episodes was all an elaborate practice session for Fielder himself — a metanarrative red herring in the vein of Orson Welles’ 1973 film F For Fake.

Hilarious as that turn likely would have been, it also would have been a cop-out. An easy escape from the broader theme that Fielder and co-writers Carrie Kemper and Eric Notarnicola touch on in Nathan’s voiceover in the final scene of the Season 1 finale, “Pretend Daddy”: “Life’s better with surprises.” And perhaps the biggest surprise that Fielder has to reckon with in this episode is the unintended consequences of his quest to be the perfect father and help his previous subjects rehearse their lives.

After injecting himself into the rehearsal of Angela, the fundamentalist Christian who wanted to prepare for her eventual motherhood, Nathan has taken the lead role and, as the episode opens, is trying to hold the perfect birthday party for his “son” Adam, played by child actors Remy and Liam. It’s a surreal faux-celebration as Fielder is surrounded by extras who, due to union rules, can’t speak any lines and so are pretending to really enjoy themselves.

The party ends on some bleakly funny and discomforting notes. At the behest of the Christian parent of one of the rehearsal’s many Adams, Nathan has to cheerfully explain that he’s going to hell because he’s Jewish. More troubling than that is how the lines separating the rehearsal from real life get increasingly blurry for poor Remy, the younger of the two actors. He continues to call Nathan “daddy” even when he’s off the clock and refuses to leave the set of the rehearsal.

The Rehearsal was already a self-aware series, with Fielder making comedic hay of the desire that many adults have to be famous. The participants of this show or other series like Fielder’s previous triumph Nathan For You or Sacha Baron Cohen’s satirical Who Is America? (on which Fielder served as a director) are lured in by the presence of cameras, willingly putting themselves into often bizarre circumstances likely for the sole purpose of being on TV. Whether any of the people who take part in these shows are happy about what they see isn’t something the creators of the series seem particularly concerned with.

The Rehearsal Season Finale Recap

The Rehearsal (HBO)

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