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'The Rehearsal': Why People Are Talking About the HBO Show

The Rehearsal has officially been renewed for season 2.

Nathan Fielder messes with a straw while looking deep in thought.
Nathan Fielder, known for the Comedy Central show Nathan for You, writes, directs and stars in The Rehearsal.
HBO

If you're here, you've probably seen or seen something about The Rehearsal, a bizarre and ambitious new HBO series from comedian Nathan Fielder. Maybe you've come across tweets referencing the show or spotted the title while searching through HBO Max's catalog

Fielder is also known for his Comedy Central show Nathan for You, which saw him "think outside the box" to help small businesses succeed -- his ideas spanning from selling alcohol to minors (but hanging on to it until they turn 21) to opening a parody store called Dumb Starbucks. The series ran from 2013 to 2017.

On his latest show, which premiered July 15 (and is already confirmed for a second season), Fielder "allows ordinary people to prepare for life's biggest moments by 'rehearsing' them in carefully crafted simulations of his own design," according to the official synopsis from HBO. 

Here's a beginner's guide to The Rehearsal, including what it is, why people are talking about it, and when you can tune in to the forthcoming season finale.

What's The Rehearsal about?

On The Rehearsal, Fielder masterminds ridiculous, over-the-top rehearsals that let people run through moments in their lives before they happen. For example, in the first episode, he orchestrates a rehearsal for a middle-aged man named Kor, who's looking to confess a long-held secret to a friend.

How extreme of a rehearsal are we talking? Well, Kor's practice rounds involve the venue he plans to meet his bar trivia friend at -- a Brooklyn bar called the Alligator Lounge. Fielder constructs a "perfect replica" of the bar, down to the exact spices on the bar's spice racks. (A crew member reportedly told him the faux establishment probably cost more to make than the real bar did.) Kor rehearses his bomb drop with an actress -- a doppelganger standing in for his friend. Later, the real meeting between the two friends plays out on screen, and we watch eagerly to see if all that outrageous rehearsing paid off.

The Rehearsal doesn't really adhere to that rehearsal-and-then-reality structure after that, though. It soon becomes harder to pin down, especially as Fielder begins to insert himself into rehearsals.

After the first four episodes, the show sits at an impressive score of 86 on CNET sister site Metacritic.

Is The Rehearsal real or scripted?

Nathan Fielder on the set of The Rehearsal with two men sitting in the foreground.

Fielder (center) sits in the background.

HBO

Is The Rehearsal scripted? Based on what we've seen so far, the answer is yes and no. The Rehearsal appears to include both hired actors and nonactors, plucked from places like Craigslist, who are interested in taking part in Fielder's experiment. In the first episode, Fielder says in a voiceover that Kor had responded to a Craigslist post. Alternatively, he calls the person who plays the fake version of Kor's bar trivia friend an actress. Basically, there's a distinction made in some way between the actors and the people who are rehearsing moments in their lives.

Here's another example. In episode 3, Fielder refers to a man named Patrick (for those who've seen the show, he's the Raising Canes guy) as "this guy I met." Patrick wants to have a conversation with his brother concerning their grandfather's will, and Fielder arranges for Patrick to practice with an actor who's standing in for the brother.

That being said, we haven't seen the final episodes yet. Some people have theorized that the whole show may be a Rehearsal and that those we think are nonactors are really actors. 

"Does anybody think there's a chance we get to the end of The Rehearsal and Nathan explains that the whole show was fake the entire time?" one Twitter user wrote.

Why are people talking about the show?

There are many reasons you may have heard about The Rehearsal recently. Fans are praising the show for being highly originalmind-blowing and completely bonkers. It lends itself to theories, like the one mentioned above, and chuckle-worthy memes. It's also thrust some provocative people into the spotlight

However, the show and Fielder have also drawn criticism for the treatment of participants. 

"The gaze of superiority and dominance (Fielder) casts upon Kor struck me as arrogant, cruel, and, above all, indifferent," critic Richard Brody wrote about his experience watching the show's first episode in his New Yorker piece The Cruel and Arrogant Gaze of Nathan Fielder's 'The Rehearsal.' Still, other critics have called The Rehearsal "wonderfully weird and fascinating," brilliant and moving.

How many episodes will there be?

There are six episodes of The Rehearsal in total. The first episode aired on July 15. Five have dropped so far. 

On Aug. 19, HBO announced The Rehearsal has been renewed for a second season.

When's the next Rehearsal?

The sixth episode of the show airs on HBO on Friday, Aug. 19, at 11 p.m. ET/PT. It's available on HBO Max at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.