Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Film & TV

Nathan Fielder didn’t learn any moral lessons from ‘The Rehearsal’

With his show renewed for a second season, it’s clear the comedian isn’t feeling too bad

In the finale of Nathan Fielder’s HBO hit, “The Rehearsal,” the comedian’s convoluted setups finally came back to bite him. The complex web of a show, which followed Fielder as he helped his guests set up true-to-life rehearsals for major life moments, required a lot of child actors. And small children, it turns out, have a tough time differentiating between real life and pretend.

The last episode opens with Fielder stuttering as he explains to a 6-year-old actor, under the watchful eye of the child’s mother, that “Judaism is just some, like, pretend thing.” The kid should “be excited to be Christian,” he continues, “because you’ll get to go to heaven but I have to go to hell as a Jew.” 

“I’ll, well, I’ll burn,” Fielder finishes, looking at the mother for approval. “Yeah,” she confirms.

How did Fielder end up having to disavow his own religion on a major television network?

In one of the rehearsals — the main one, which spanned the bulk of the episodes — Fielder was helping a devoutly Christian woman experience raising a child, with him as the father. He outfitted a house and hired a cast of several child actors to take turns playing the child, Adam. For weeks, the two of them homeschooled Adam, fed him and put him to bed. It was not scripted; the child actors improvised their way through scenes.

Feeling like he should teach his own traditions to his fake son, Fielder also ends up bringing one of the Adams to synagogue and to a Jewish tutor. He fights with his fake wife to protect Judaism. But this child — the real life actor who played Adam in the synagogue scenes — is not Jewish. And his parents complained that he was now trying to celebrate Hanukkah alongside Christmas back in his real home. So Fielder ends up taking back everything he had said about Judaism, in one of many instances of the show’s rehearsals spilling over into real life.

The final episode of “The Rehearsal” sees Fielder grappling with the impact the show had on its child actors, who struggle to separate fact from fiction in the show’s already murky concept. Even worse than the child who thought he was actually Jewish, there’s Remy, a fatherless kid who latched onto Fielder as a real father figure. After the experiment ends, he can’t understand that, now that the show is over, Fielder is no longer his dad. “I don’t want you to be Nathan, I want you to be daddy,” Remy says over and over as his mom and Fielder try to explain that they were just pretending. It’s heartbreaking.

Fielder looking pensive and regretful, or so I like to imagine. Courtesy of HBOMax

Fielder has received criticism about ethics for his past show, “Nathan For You,” a quasi-documentary comedy in which he offers often-outlandish advice to small business owners. Many of his ideas are basically pranks played on gullible or unknowing shopkeepers and entrepreneurs, and people accused him of punching down and taking advantage of people.

“The Rehearsal” is almost a redo for Fielder, a show in which he can play with similarly absurdist ideas but only with people who have signed extensive consent forms and have been told exactly what they’re getting into. But the ethics still feel muddy. 

The kids are the most obvious example of the implications of Fielder’s experiments — their parents did sign consent forms, but those only exempt Fielder from legal liability, not moral. And the concept of informed consent feels relatively meaningless given that the kids hardly know what they’ve been signed up for, and have little agency in the process; after all, it’s hard to confirm if a toddler even understands what it means to act. (Fielder asks Remy he knows what acting is, and he can’t quite answer.) 

Fielder clearly feels awful about the impact he has had on the child actors — his discussions with Remy, the young actor without a dad, are the only moments in the show where Fielder seems to completely drop his exaggerated persona and truly seek to connect — and so, in the finale, he tries to figure out how he can make the kind of show he’s known for without such issues. 

This, of course, means another rehearsal. He redoes scenes from Remy’s time as Adam, trying to do them differently. He tries being cold and distant as a father figure. He swaps in an older kid dressed as a child and even an adult dressed as a child, to play his 6-year-old son. He tries to act scenes out with a doll. But of course, the realism is lost, and Fielder seems to realize that there is no totally unproblematic way to practice the kind of comedy he’s known for. He’s learned his lesson.

Except he evidently hasn’t — “The Rehearsal” was just renewed for a second season. At the end of the final episode, Fielder decides to try a final rehearsal, one in which he practices forgiving himself. And apparently, he succeeded; no matter how bad he feels, Fielder is clearly ready to do it all again.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.