How Filming Nathan For You Planted The Seeds For The Rehearsal

 If you're not on board the train for HBO's "The Rehearsal," you're missing out on a mesmerizing television event. The series is a surreal pseudo-reality show in which awkward comedian Nathan Fielder helps people reenact a viable scenario by going to the most extensive lengths possible to prepare every variable that person's predicament might land themselves in when it arrives.

It's a hilariously poignant and touching experiment that challenges the facet of human natue and will probably have you second guessing any random day-to-day interactions you may have. The subjects at the center of this show are often so uniquely bizarre, it's kind of a miracle that he also happened to choose people with a cosmic sense of unintentional comedic timing.

I was in tears at the start of last week's episode when Angela, a super devout Christian woman learning how to raise a child from infancy to adolescence within a matter of weeks, tells a dumbfounded Fielder, who's dressed in a cheap Batman costume, that she doesn't celebrate Halloween because "it's the highest satanic holiday of the year" where Satanists perform underground sacrifices. If "Nathan For You" was Fielder in practice mode, then "The Rehearsal" is the comedian coming out swinging.

"The Rehearsal" has yet to unveil Fielder's master plan, but if what we've seen so far is anything to go off of, then it might stand to chance that he has his work cut out for him. But if you're looking to know the origin of how all of this experiment started, look no further than Fielder's previous series.

The unpredictability of human nature

According to a profile in Vulture, "The Rehearsal" originated out of Fielder trying to predict every way people would react while filming the bonkers segments of "Nathan For You." The Comedy Central series, which saw Fielder trying to help struggling businesses with bizarre gimmicks, ultimately led him to put together a show about how humorous it is that we think we can control outside influence versus what actually happens:

"It's sort of universal that people want to have control over their lives...There's something really funny to that compulsion."

The difference between Fielder's shows and something like "What Would You Do," a social experiment reality show about a bunch of potential scenarios that would call for someone to intervene, is that his subjects are always aware that they're on camera, blurring the lines of reality and fiction. Considering every reality show goes through an edit bay, none of these programs resemble the full truth, but little moments of humanity manage to sneak through. Fielder goes beyond merely tricking people into a bizarre scenario, and occasionally finds out something about himself in the process.

The roots of "The Rehearsal" can be traced all the way back to the feature-length series finale of "Nathan For You" entitled "Finding Frances," in which Nathan offers to help Bill Heath, a Bill Gates impersonator, track down a long lost love named Frances. There are a couple of sequences in which Nathan has Bill interact with an actor playing Frances to see how he's going to react. The special delivers exactly the kind of humor and emotional introspection that Fielder excels at, but the "Nathan for You" segment that sticks out in my mind as the pseudo-genesis of the HBO show has to be "The Anecdote."

Rehearsing the talk show experience

In this episode, Fielder plans a highly elaborate ruse that involves a wedding invitation, mistaken luggage, an oversized suit, and a mysterious baggie with powdery contents inside. All of these are ingredients for his plot to go on Jimmy Kimmel to promote his show, and prepare the perfect late night anecdote after so many awkward guest spots. In not wanting to tell a false story, however, Fielder goes above and beyond to bend the highly improbable coincidences to his will, hilariously spending over $350,000 of the "Nathan for You" budget on a story that is technically true, but not real.

You can even watch it right now, presented without the context of Fielder's plot. "To ensure my story wasn't a lie, I'd have to orchestrate an elaborate series of events to make every single plot point happen to me for real," says Fielder while putting things in motion.

"The Anecdote," in tandem with "The Rehearsal," sees Fielder working with a bunch of tools at his disposal to fabricate an interaction with the intent of preparing for a desired outcome. It shares the idea that no matter how much you anticipate something, the unpredictability of human nature has no qualms skewing you off course. There are some things you just can't anticipate, like Kirsten Dunst telling a similar story before you're supposed to go on next. 

"The Rehearsal" airs every Friday and is currently streaming on HBO Max.