The latest amazing HBO Max show proves there are two kinds of people. Those who know Nathan Fielder, and those who need to get familiar with the man and his work immediately. Fielder, who won a certain kind of notoriety with the Comedy Central series Nathan for You, is back with his latest (and possibly best) series.
The Rehearsal just debuted on HBO Max, and with just its first episode (which arrived Friday, July 15), it instantly won a place in my rotation going forward. The only problem I can conceive of with this series is its season is only going to be six episodes. That said, this short length is totally understandable considering how mind-boggling an undertaking The Rehearsal is.
And I'm not alone in loving The Rehearsal. The series is already a winner on Rotten Tomatoes, where it's got a rating of 93% from critics — on top of a 100% from the audience.
So, without further, erm, rehearsal, let's break down why The Rehearsal is the best new TV show — and why it's the latest addition to our best HBO Max shows list.
What is Nathan Fielder doing in The Rehearsal?
Nathan Fielder, as always, is just trying to help. He just seems to find the most awkward situations to help, and do so in the least comfortable way possible. While Nathan For You saw Fielder using his will to help for businesses (Dumb Starbucks got a lot of attention), The Rehearsal takes his passion in a different direction, to guide people who are extremely concerned about their next actions. This might sound vague, but I'm keeping some details secret because the surprises are spectacular.
Have you ever known someone who asked you to roleplay out a conversation or situation they're about to experience? In The Rehearsal, Fielder and his guest will do just that, but on a grand scale. Fielder goes above and beyond to create the situation his guest is about to experience, and then they work together to figure out how to make sure they get the optimal ending.
So, as you see in the above trailer, Fielder's doing the very most — all of the time. Not only to help his subject, but to prepare for his conversations with his guests as well. This takes Fielder to great lengths, as things get awkward and confusing. The questions about what is real permeate the series, as guests begin to question their new acquaintance.
Fielder is wholesome throughout, though, as his true goal lies within helping people get ready to face their fears. His first guest, it turns out, has been lying about his background to his friends, and wants to tell them the truth. By the end of the episode, especially when Nathan reveals something he's hidden from his guest, you'll be amazed that The Rehearsal is real.
The Rehearsal reviews: What the critics think
The Rehearsal's critical consensus is extremely positive, as seen by its 93% score at Rotten Tomatoes (thought not a end-all, be-all, the site is still a valuable resource).
Kathryn VanArendonk, at Vulture, writes "gives you the giddy, endless-falling sensation of never quite knowing where the ground should be, like vertigo but for the experience of being a person in the world." She also notes The Rehearsal "will not be universally liked, but it will nevertheless elicit two universal responses: No one will feel comfortable, and everyone will wonder how much of it is real."
Robert Ham at Consequence gave The Rehearsal an A, and writes "There aren’t many shows, especially in the comedy world, taking the chances that The Rehearsal does. Nor are they lucky enough to be led by someone like Fielder, a comic visionary who has, once again, turned a parody of reality TV into a brilliant dissection of human nature."
Over at The Wrap, LaToya Ferguson declares "It’s hard not to watch the show in awe, even between the laughs (and cringing), and Fielder’s commitment to the premise and his craft — even when his subjects don’t share the same level of commitment — is more than impressive. It’s an absolute creative feat."
Time's Judy Berman notes we shouldn't define The Rehearsal by its cringe laughs, as "Everyone who engages with The Rehearsal as more than just cringe comedy, which it also sometimes is, will probably get something different out of it."
Should you watch The Rehearsal tonight?
In short: Yes. If you like awkward comedy or want something completely different, The Rehearsal is the show you didn't know you needed. I want to say more about this series, but to reveal its big surprises would be a step too far.
The Rehearsal is the kind of weird show that we need more of, especially as the axe of TV show cancelations remove more and more scripted programming from TV. We gave HBO Max this year's Tom's Guide Award for best streaming service, and the more it provides shows like The Rehearsal, the more we'll continue to believe in its future.
Next: Another new HBO Max show is a must-watch with 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The new Rings of Power trailer looks far more precious than House of The Dragon, and the Marvel X-Men movie title may have leaked.
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.