A Slight Difference in Chairs
On The Rehearsal, Motomamis, and the American Gigolo trailer.
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A little bit of housekeeping: Hyperfixate will now become a Thursday affair! We’ve been pivoting around this for a while now, haven’t we? I figure towards the end of the week is better than smack dab in the middle, both for you and for me. Thanks for everything Hyperfixate Wednesdays, hello Hyperfixate Thursdays!
Hyperfixate is now joined by their fiction companion/half-sibling long story short! Like the Taylor Swift song! I’ll get a short story out to you (hopefully) once every two months, if not once a month if I can get my shit together. I’ll probably be posting drafts or tangential ideas that come about during my Masters program (which starts soon!) on long story short as well. The first issue, entitled Flip, is available for you to read now!
Now, back to business.
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I Thought I Would Look Cool, But Due To A Slight Difference in Chairs, I Looked Like A Fool
Nathan Fielder’s new show, The Rehearsal, is the next stage in Fielder’s never-ending saga to help others in the only and most insane way he knows how. After graduating from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades, the Vancouver native decided to put his degree to good use with his previous endeavor, Nathan For You on Comedy Central, helping small businesses in Los Angeles with his unique solutions to whatever problems they faced.
What made Nathan For You work so well was the way the show worked with real people and businesses with ideas so absurd you cannot help but have a visceral response. Some of my favourites include The Movement (where Nathan devises a workout craze moving furniture to give a moving company free labour), and The Man Zone (where Nathan transforms the back room of a women’s boutique to accommodate bored boyfriends).
There are also episodes about Nathan’s own personal experiments and some helping specific individuals. The special Finding Frances—a near feature-length documentary, mind you—is one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of television I have ever seen. In it, Nathan assists a former Bill Gates impersonator from a previous episode in search of his long-lost love, Frances. There’s one where Nathan races against time and a robotic arm to undo his handcuffs so the robot doesn’t pull his trousers down and expose him to a group of children, thereby making him a sex offender. Another one involved months of deception, with Nathan transforming himself to transform someone else into a hero in the eyes of a future girlfriend, and doing everything in an absurd talk show antidote to make the antidote legitimate..
The Rehearsal is a lot like that last one, but on a much larger, more elaborate scale. The premise of the show sounds simple on paper, it’s like one of those secret desires you have that would only sound crazy if you pitched it out loud. Like coming up with a convoluted backstory for a small, yet nerve-wracking lie. In The Rehearsal, Fielder provides his clients with the opportunity to ‘rehearse’ for any interaction in their lives with exact-replica sets of whatever location they want and actors hired to stand in for whoever they want to have the interaction with.
In the pilot, Fielder demonstrates this rehearsal process to a prospective client, Kor, a 50-year-old teacher and trivia aficionado from Brooklyn, by admitting that he has rehearsed their first encounter over a dozen times. In Synecdoche, New York-like fashion, he’s built an exact replica of Kor’s apartment in a massive warehouse and hired an actor to portray Kor, and made notes of all the potential options, actions, and outcomes that could happen in their encounter. He even has a little harness to rest his laptop on for this! It’s fabulous! Nathan offers Kor the opportunity to rehearse his confession to a trivia teammate/friend about a lie he told regarding his lack of a postgraduate degree.
He really is doing a less depressing version of Synecdoche, New York. Not exactly less depressing but I feel like it’s a lot subtler in its melancholy despite the grandeur and scale of everything on the show. There are a lot of sweet, tender, and human moments amidst all of The Rehearsal’s absurdity.
A lot of what Nathan Fielder does, even going back to his days on This Hour Has 22 Minutes with Nathan On Your Side, does not exist in a vacuum and is always focused on helping people. At least, that’s always how it starts. What I think drives Nathan’s need to help is actually his curiosity about people and himself. And it’s never malicious, either. I love that his schemes never come from a malicious place, they always come from a place of curiosity. Even if it makes him ridiculously uncomfortable.
Discomfort is Nathan’s mother tongue, at least comedically. It’s a language he has a command of like no other, it’s what makes everything he pursues so much funnier. The Crown Prince of Cringe Comedy, if you will. Fielder’s strain of discomfort is a kind he doesn’t fight, it’s something he investigates. The level of commitment to the bit and how often discomfort is a consequence of that bit is what pulls everything together. I love when he pulls back the curtain on how he’ll achieve a certain goal in the episode. A great example is when Nathan needs to connect with his subjects. There are two scenes in the pilot—one at a shooting range upstate, another at a pool—where he really needs to build a rapport and connection with Kor and constructs specific situations to create the right environment for the two of them to be vulnerable. At the pool, Nathan times the presence of another swimmer to interrupt their conversation, prompting them to leave and take their conversation elsewhere and to a more personal place emotionally. Nathan shares that, like Kor, he too has been married. The truth of this I don’t know, as no one really knows much about Fielder’s personal life outside of the cats he has (allegedly).
Oftentimes, the curtain itself is the butt of the joke. It’s one of the more interesting uses of meta-analysis and self-awareness that I’ve seen in a really long time, where the market is now oversaturated with television that wants you to know that it knows it’s television and not much else. The construction of a façade being a key focal point throughout the episode both adds a sense of control and a heightened sense of terror—-you still don’t know what’ll happen after the rehearsal, even if Nathan and Kor have tried every possible.
The title of this part of the newsletter comes from a quote from the episode. In an attempt to control every aspect of his rehearsal environment for his meeting with Kor, he learns that there are variables he can’t anticipate for the actual day, like the chair he’ll be sitting in. The chair in Kor’s real apartment is much lower than the one he used to rehearse, which made Nathan feel a bit silly and affected (though by an imperceptible margin) his feelings about what he had already practiced and what is unfolding in front of him. He takes this as a lesson to take for Kor’s rehearsal, building an exact replica of the Alligator Lounge in Brooklyn down to the wear and tear of each chair in the venue.
Nathan Fielder is no stranger to great lengths to get his results. His meticulous attention to detail heightens the already insane scheme he’s put in motion. To get every detail of Kor’s apartment, his crew posed as people from the gas company. He made a fake blog, Thrifty Boy, and a writing opportunity just to get more information on Kor’s friend. I’m most impressed by the walking tour of trivia answers he organized to make sure Kor knew all the answers to the quiz on the night of his confession, after obtaining the answers through a ruse involving his Thrifty Boy blog.
As much as the two of them have tried to minimize any uncertainties, humans are famously unpredictable. Even if it’s the smallest thing. I think Nathan’s level of preparation is on par with that of Westworld host engineers and Adam Sandler in Click—control, neuroticism, curiosity, and audacity all accounted for. The whole point of the rehearsal is to get the subject comfortable with that uncertainty and the audience as on-edge as possible.
There are two points on the show that deals with the absolute ‘worst case scenario’ both Kor and Nathan can think of, the root of all their fears that would warrant a rehearsal in the first place. In the face of the awful things, their respective ‘scene partners’ could say to them, things they have feared they would say, you discover that it wouldn’t be all that bad. It would suck in the moment, sure, but much like the show, it would be able to move on to the next scene.
Perhaps it’s just me being corny or projecting my own experience onto a piece of media, but I think The Rehearsal is a great reminder that whatever it is we’re afraid of, it’s survivable. Even if it’s by the skin of our teeth, it’s survivable. We can’t control the chain of events or outcomes of whatever we expect, but we can manage our expectations or let go of them altogether.
That’s been one of my big lessons over the past year: to learn to let go of expectations and outcomes. I was freaking out about a date I went on last month, thinking it had gone horribly wrong even though I had a great time and this person and I are on good terms even if nothing romantic came of the date. I messaged a friend about it and he sent me a really lovely voice message in response about how in his own dating life he’s been trying to let go of the expectations and outcomes he’s set for himself, letting go of the what-if scenarios and ‘rehearsals’ you’d have going on in your head and how liberating that’s been. It releases any pressure on you, the other person, or even the bloody Universe and lets go of years worth of habits that make you associate rejection as a reflection of your own self-worth.
If it took Nathan Fielder helping a Brooklyn schoolteacher order an orange juice with no pulp for me to realise and own that? Well, that’s life, baby. Please go watch The Rehearsal. I’ll be tuned in for as long as this show runs. It’s wholesome, it’s earnest, and it’s funny as hell. That’s how you fucking spend an HBO budget (elaborate schemes that involve to-scale replicas of places that already exist).
Sometimes the internet shows you things that are just right. A lot of the time, it doesn’t. It’ll show you some ambiguous pink sauce taking over TikTok that you suspect is really just Pepto-Bismol. But sometimes, it’ll show you things like Pedro Almodovar and Pedro Pascal at the Rosalía concert in Madrid.
Fresh off the heels of Almodovar’s latest short film project, his answer to Brokeback Mountain starring Pascal and fellow Oscar Isaac-sidepiece Ethan Hawke, the pair of Pedros were caught on camera having a pretty swell time chatting to people at the show.
I have many questions. All of them are about which tracks from MOTOMAMI they were shaking their asses to. Did Almodovar put on BIZCOCHITO on set? SAOKO as our cowboys rode off into the sunset? Has Ethan Hawke even heard MOTOMAMI? I personally would like to know.
Whispering Julian (In Your Eyes, Yeah, You Must Believe Julian)
I couldn’t muster enough energy last week to tackle this properly, and I’m not even sure I can do it now! The trailer for the American Gigolo series on Showtime was incredibly overwhelming. Finally, men have a chance of exiting their flop era! All thanks to Jon Bernthal!
The first thing I experience upon watching the trailer was sensory overload. There is a lot going on; visually, musically, Bernthally—it truly was too much! It’s sexy, it’s sleek, it’s intriguing with enough potential that it could all go horribly wrong. Paul Schrader, forgive me (not that I care), but I will be tuning in.
In this version, the Julian Kaye we meet re-enters Los Angeles’ sex work scene after fifteen years of being up the river. I wonder how much would have changed for him, if there’ll be mention of platforms like OnlyFans, and if the show will make one of those real-life promotional tie-in marketing things. Just an idea. (That I will immediately get canceled for even suggesting! Ari! Stand up! Have some decorum!)
I also worry that this version of Julian Kaye could die, just by who they cast to play him alone. Bernthal is famous for playing characters that are—despite sex appeal—almost always doomed. He is to this decade what Sean Bean was when he kept dying in everything too. I hope they use some interpolation of Carly Rae Jepsen’s Julien on the show. It would be the smart thing to do.
There’s a lot of Bernthal wearing a chain in this. Lorde, protect Paul Mescal, it’s not going to be a fair fight. The chaos the premiere will cause come September 9th could break Twitter. And what a way to go that’ll be! It’s been an intense week for Showtime, what with the Bodega Boys splitting up (Dylan O’Brien and Anna Kendrick have yet to comment). Let’s all be in the trenches together!
That’s all for this week! If you enjoyed what you just read and want to continue supporting this newsletter and my work, consider buying me a cuppa over on Ko-Fi!
All my love,