Nathan Fielder embodies the adage “so crazy it just might work” like he wrote it himself. With a penchant for finding particularly peculiar people, Fielder’s manipulative reality blurs ethics and ingenuity in a manner akin to John Kramer show-running The Truman Show.
As HBO’s The Rehearsal takes Fielder’s puppet mastery to addictive new heights, the continuity/curiousness of the series makes the weekly wait progressively more taxing the deeper it sinks its soft-shell wizard into his Oz. With Nathan for You also streaming on HBO Max, there’s a treasure trove of awkward gold to sift through while waiting for the next robot child to age overnight.
The Richards Tip
In an attempt to drum up business for Joe K’s Deli Restaurant in Vernon, CA, Nathan proposes piggybacking off the press that a celebrity leaving a $10,000 tip would garner. After settling on a Michael Richards impersonator, Fielder’s plan would entail starting a fictional newspaper, getting someone to legally change their name to Michael Richards to open/deposit the funds in an actual bank account, and staging a meticulously crafted event at the diner with actual customers.
From faux Michael Richards to the full dining staff, the reactions are all painstakingly shaped through repetition and rehearsals. Though the episode strategizes the predictability of sensationalized fluff in news cycles instead of long-dreaded conversations, the tactics and trajectories are very much aligned.
Blending Andy Kaufman with Colin Robinson, Fielder’s ability to make things awkward is unparalleled. Ready to move on from his Wizard of Loneliness moniker, Fielder sets up an exciting day of hats and go-karts with a man looking for camaraderie on Craigslist.
Secretly collecting his platonic date’s blood and urine to monitor his dopamine levels, Fielder used Brendan as chemical proof that he was actually a fun guy. Though Fielder did steal Brendan’s urine and had little in common with him beyond enjoying theme parks, the length he’ll go to get his desired outcome is the backbone of all his best work.
Positioning unpaid labor as exercise, Nathan tells an L.A.-based moving company that he can get people to work for free by masking their moving duties as a fitness craze. Enlisting bodybuilder/series standout Jack Garbarino to attribute his physique to moving furniture and getting a ghostwriter to fabricate his autobiography, Fielder duped multiple news outlets and prospective gymgoers into The Movement.
From a single-use gym in a storage locker to the bright lights of morning TV, Nathan’s Movement raised awareness for jungle children and (could have) lowered a struggling business’s payroll. Another broadly intricate move by the Canadian magician, Fielder’s knack for reconstructing reality is again on full display in The Rehearsal.
Under the protection of parody law, Nathan proposes rebranding the unnecessarily quirky Helio Cafe as a Dumb Starbucks. Mocking the coffee giant while siphoning its customers, Dumb Starbucks would become Fielder’s most infamous stunt. Eventually losing the support of his partner/Helio owner, Elias Zacklin, Fielder would build the business himself.
Successful to the point of snaking queues and bootleg merch, Dumb Starbucks burned bright but away from the source it was meant to illuminate. As much of a spectacle as it was a massive undertaking, the business wouldn’t last long but would leave a handwritten note to check out the Helio Cafe upon its closure. As echoed in The Rehearsal, there’s no point too singular to blow an exorbitant budget on.
Gas Station/Caricature Artist
Nathan’s wacky way to ensure a gas rebate was never claimed took its potential takers on a riddle-fueled wild goose chase up Mount Chileo. As the frugal adventurers fell off one by one, three would remain through nightfall, unexpectedly embarking on an emotionally therapeutic journey together and creating one of Nathan For You‘s best episodes.
While Nathan had no intention of bringing the newfound friends to the rebate box, the doors they unlocked together were far more important than a few dollars off a tank of gas. As seen in The Rehearsal’s “Gold Digger,” the consequences of Fielder’s games can cut much deeper than his surface-level shenanigans.
Andy Vs. Uber
Marking struggling taxi driver Andy Farshidian’s return, Nathan lures the karaoke cabbie in with a plan as evil as it is opportunistic: get customers to stop using Uber by creating a sleeper cell of drivers intentionally sabotaging rides. Armed with bagged sulfur and Lou Bega’s “Mambo Number 5,” Andy was Nathan’s wheels on the ground.
Fielder’s high-stakes manipulation crested in an Anonymous-style warning video, which proved too aggressive for The Lucky Group Nathan was supposedly representing. Home to one of the series’ biggest twists, the results of Fielder’s efforts proved fruitful in an unexpected way, which is seemingly where The Rehearsal is headed.
Studying recurring celebrity late-night talking points in preparation for his interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Nathan constructs an elaborate story involving a wedding, the police, mysterious ashes, and a comically oversized suit to share on the show. He then arranges for every occurrence to happen as proof of his story.
While both shows have written and pre-planned elements, “The Anecdote” brings viewers behind the scenes with a bewildered Jimmy Kimmel taking their place. Though the fun usually lies in Nathan’s ability to sizzle awkward silence, being a part of the production offered an enlightening look at how it takes a team to tell one man’s story.
Haunted House/The Hunk
In “The Hunk,” Nathan enlists a series of women to compete in a fake dating show to vie for his attention. Posing as the bachelor of their dreams, Nathan finds previously nonexistent confidence in himself as the competitors throw themselves at “love.”
While most of Nathan’s stunts and ideas hold some self-serving purpose, “The Hunk” is open with how much it’s about Nathan becoming who he’s always wanted to be. Though The Rehearsal starts off with him in his usual overseer role, his eventual starring role takes what he was looking for on Nathan For You to the next logical level.
“The Hero” is a sprawling production. Determined to take a lonely, underachieving Magic: The Gathering enthusiast and turn him into an icon, Nathan flies Corey Calderwood to a trailer in the desert and assumes his identity. In full prosthetics, Fielder charms a blind date as Corey and arranges a tightrope stunt in the name of breast cancer awareness for the world (L.A.) to see.
As Nathan gets lost in his stunt and does it over and over again, it’s clear that despite switching out afterward and giving all the glory to Corey, it was Fielder that needed the warm rush of the spotlight. As always, he’s helping others while becoming the man he aspires to be, which is at its core, the point of The Rehearsal.
The concluding episode of Nathan For You, “Finding Frances” is Fielder’s masterpiece. Centered on recurring Bill Gates impersonator Bill Heath’s obsession over a lost love, the hour+ long episode shows the lengths a man (and Nathan) will go for a chance at a happy ending.
Equally about Fielder himself, “Finding Frances” also manages to humanize escort work in a way that’s gentle and affecting. As Bill rehearses and refines his potential interactions with Frances with a paid actress under Fielder’s guidance, the rehearsal becomes the reunion. The ability to workshop one’s emotions before addressing the person/issue they’d been dreading proved an idea so powerful that it now exists as its own entity, five years later, on HBO Max.