“The Rehearsal” Series Premiere Recap: Orange Juice, No Pulp
Photo: David M. Russell/HBO
Nathan for you and Repetition are not the same show; you don’t need to have seen Nathan Fielder’s old show to understand or appreciate his new one on HBO. But the first episode of Repetition, “Orange Juice, No Pulp” has enough structural overlap with Fielder’s earlier work that the echoes and differences seem significant. For example, each episode of NFY began with a small voiceover that explained the premise of the show. In Repetitioninstead, we get a cold open: no context, no instructions, just a man watching intently Danger! on his couch. When Fielder walks into the apartment, we see a Nathan many of us already know but a bit more natural – still goofy but less stuffy, a guy you can imagine talking to without feeling any physical discomfort.
The show introduces us to Kor, a teacher who found his way to the show via a vague Craigslist post. How vague? Fielder shows us a screenshot of the prompt: “TV Opportunity: Is There Something You’re Avoiding? Submit video.In Kor’s presentation, he explains that he lied to his quiz bar team more than 12 years ago about his school status: They believe he has a master’s degree when he doesn’t. got only a bachelor’s degree. The lie itself seems pretty minor, and Kor’s face is hard to read – he keeps his tone and expression steady – but when he explains that all of his teammates had higher degrees and he “wanted to look smarter than me”, we feel a small glimmer of understanding that there is something deeper moving beneath the surface of his regret.
For NFY fans, many aspects of those first few minutes will strike you as extremely familiar: Kor’s awkwardness on camera, Fielder’s revelation that he’s “not good at meeting people for the first time”, the idiosyncratic melodrama with which he announces that he is “about to ask this man to entrust his life to me. Even using a Craigslist message to attract participants to Fielder’s programs is a classic NFY trope. All of these things sound familiar; we are on solid ground.
Then, three minutes 40 seconds later, RepetitionThe premise begins: “This conversation has been going pretty well so far, hasn’t it?” Fielder asks Kor. ” It is not a coincidence.” A hatch opens, and we descend.
I wish I could show you footage of myself watching the following sequence for the first time, sitting on the edge of my couch, laughing and screaming, “Haha, what the fuck!” as a “gas company”, digitally maps Kor’s apartment. I can’t remember the last time I laughed like I did while watching the recreation of Kor’s house or the actor hired to play it – my discomfort and amazement chemically combined into something almost toxic.
It’s funny and awesome, and also I kept thinking, It’s frightening. If it happened to me, I would be afraid. Kor has just learned that a team of strangers have broken into his house and created a replica of his house. Does that freak him out? Does he regret having agreed to participate in this project? The look on his face as he hears the news of this extreme violation of his privacy in front of an HBO camera crew is unreadable; his expression barely changes, except for a few raised eyebrows and slow nods. It’s amazing to see Kor’s fake “Wow” side-by-side with the identical real-world reaction.
But when Fielder explains that Kor can practice telling his teammates his lie by repeating their conversation from every possible angle, Kor seems into it. “If I could find out how the other person is going to react in this situation…that would be extremely appealing, yes,” he said, smiling a little. “You’ll know!” Fielder said, delighted to be joined inside the premise.
The series of events that occur after Fielder explains the concept of Repetition feeling strategically paced as if we were acclimated to the project by carefully measured degrees. When Fielder discovers that Kor is particularly nervous about confessing his lie to a teammate, a woman he refuses to name but whose reaction he describes as “potentially very, very violent” (!?!?), he begins to deploy a series of tactics to extract Kor’s trust. He needs to learn what she looks like so they can plan her reaction, as she seems to be the most important variable in this whole situation.
It was then that I realized why this episode begins with so many reminders of Nathan for you. Fielder uses the same technique on us that he uses on Kor. As Fielder progresses in their relationship with what he describes as a “vulnerability performance,” we begin to acclimatize to the nature of that performance: loading the skeet guns with blanks, making sure that the “old man” jumps into the pool behind him so he won’t have to talk about his divorce. Each time a new manipulation is introduced, we have just enough time to adjust before the ground shifts again under our feet. As Kor reveals the name of her teammate (Tricia) and a few of her biographical details (a freelance writer who has a crush on…Vincent Kartheiser?), we understand that won’t be enough for a full rehearsal by any standards. by Fielder. . The moment he hires a Tricia actor and sends her on a secret intelligence-gathering mission with her real-world counterpart, it feels uncomfortable but not unthinkable. We were tricked into relaxing into a premise that, 15 minutes earlier, would have seemed completely insane.
A note here on Tricia’s birding interview. Fielder’s editing of the scene — the way he emphasizes his monologue at a mile-a-minute — makes me laugh, and it hurts me too, and I think that complication is worth considering. On the one hand, I can understand why Kor is intimidated by the prospect of telling this person he lied to her. She has strong opinions and doesn’t seem easy to talk to. (This is objectively funny that she won’t give voice to a woman she’s ostensibly interviewing.) On the other hand, the way she’s presented seems a bit cruel – Fielder roasts her for relatively innocent behavior when she doesn’t even know she’s being filmed.
There is a structural argument to be made that Fielder is not just being mean presenting Tricia this way – he has to establish that it will be a challenge for Kor to get a word out during their interaction. Tricia is Kor’s biggest repeat variable; Fielder is just setting the stakes. Still, it all feels a bit uncomfortable, as it always did in NFY. Once you start laughing, you’re involved, no longer just an audience member marveling at the ridiculousness of the setup, but a participant in how Fielder sees the world.
Kor also gets used to the concept with a similar mix of amazement and unease. When Fielder takes her to his perfect replica of the Alligator Lounge, he’s a little looser than when they first talked. However, he is not completely comfortable. The conversation in which he compares Fielder to Willy Wonka is perfect. Fielder is a man of near-infinite resources, building worlds in his private workshop and calling on strangers to play by his rules.
Kor’s actual rehearsal is the quietest part of the show, and I was grateful for that. There’s something oddly pleasing about watching her surrender to the process, following Fielder’s instructions to deflect any possible flirtation or steer the conversation to the topic of presidential twins. With his laptop harness and endless org chart, Fielder is as comfortable, clear and communicative in this environment as we’ve ever seen him on TV. He’s so in control, and Kor has bought into the whole drill so much, that you almost lose sight of why they’re there in the first place. “There is something strange about entering a space that is indistinguishable from another,” he says in voiceover. “In a few moments you can forget where you are.”
By the time we get to Kor’s true confession, the stakes have been set so carefully that the whole storyline unfolds on its own. I could feel my shoulders tense around my ears waiting to see if Kor would finally tell Tricia the truth; when he froze, I realized I had been holding my breath. His fear is so palpable in that moment, the tug of war in his mind so intense, you can see it in his eyes. I was flooded with genuine relief when he confessed and filled with joy after Tricia’s reaction. When Kor reveals that his lie was born out of insecurity and he tells her about his past, I almost cried. I was really proud of both of them for being so open and amazed that everything turned out so well.
“Maybe it’s easier to choose a path when you can live the future first,” Fielder says in the wake of Kor’s success. After 45 minutes of this emotional roller coaster, I can see where it’s coming from. I know intellectually that it is not possible to barricade oneself against all the uncertainties of life. But the careful escalation of the show worked its magic on me. Fielder’s methods may be a little unorthodox, but Kor seems to feel genuine relief.
And honestly, don’t we all fantasize about this stuff every time we have to make a tough life decision? Don’t we often want to see all the possible outcomes and pick the best one? If I could see in advance what might happen if I went back to school, quit my job, or had a baby, I would do it in a heartbeat. Maybe this whole idea makes sense after all.
• I almost peed my pants laughing at the part where they just say “Cheap Chick in the City” back and forth. Why is it so fascinating?
• Fielder’s elaborate flow chart—all those galaxies of possibilities branching and intertwining—looks like a perfect map of an anxious brain. It made me think of this explanatory video in images from the James Webb Space Telescope. Specifically, the feeling you get when they zoom out and you realize what you’re seeing is just a small piece of a much, much bigger picture that keeps going in all directions to still. Whoops !
• I would need a full essay on its own to even begin with the daily walks he takes with Kor to implant the answers to the trivia in his mind. Likewise, the last pass before Kor’s big night is dazzled by too many perfect details to count, but I think my favorite was the “pizza oven” at the back of the bar. When they cut the crew member throwing the undone one in the trash, I completely lost it.
• Plus…when Fielder is in Thrifty Boy, flirt with the quiz guy…does he quietly eat a whole packet of ketchup like it’s an edamame bean? Give the man an Oscar.