TV producer Nathan Fielder himself becomes the target of the site with his megalomaniacal project

Nathan Fielder in The Rehearsal.

IN The exercise Comedian and TV creator Nathan Fielder constantly walks around with a laptop strapped to his waist like a baby carrier. It’s a pose that’s both recognizable and laughable: Fielder here is the nerdy anthropologist who walks through recreated cafes and restaurants, studies his “volunteers” and tries to summarize their conversations in tables and flowcharts. He is the supervisor of social experiments where participants who are hesitant about a difficult conversation in their lives can practice the real conversation with the help of actors.

The exercise is the big surprise on TV this summer. It’s a bizarre mix of comedy and reality show, where Canadian comedian and TV maker Nathan Fielder (39) explores his obsession with social interaction and the way you can or can’t prepare for it. In the first episode, Nathan says in a monotone voice-over: ‘I’m not good at first meetings with people. I’ve been told that my personality makes people uncomfortable.’

What follows is an encounter with Kor, a teacher from Brooklyn, New York, whom Fielder got to know by posting an ad on Craigslist, the American version of Marktplaats. The cryptic question was ‘Is there anything you avoid?’, and Kor answered. He wants to confess a lie about his educational level to the group of friends he’s been playing pub quizzes with for years. Nathan Fielder lends a helping hand and recreates the bar where the pub quiz takes place in detail in a warehouse. He will also thoroughly rehearse with Kor how he confesses to his girlfriend Tricia that he lied to her.

Nathan Fielder and Kor on the reality series The Rehearsal.  Picture

Nathan Fielder and Kor on the reality series The Rehearsal.

The kinds of conversations or events that people struggle with in their lives are more common The exercise. In episode 2 we meet Angela, a 44-year-old convinced Christian who doubts whether she wants to have a child or not. No expense has been spared as Nathan Fielder arranges an idyllic home for her in the Oregon woods where Angela can practice parenthood. Countless child actors are employed, from 0 to 18 years. According to the Labor Act, the young children are only allowed to shop for four hours a day and are therefore dragged in and out of the house through the window of the children’s room. And then a father figure must also be sought. As Angela’s potential suitors drop one by one, presenter Fielder – “I don’t have kids and I’m 38” – slyly squeezes himself into the experiment. He takes on the role of test father and moves in with Angela with his two cats.

The exercise is exactly as strange and experimental as it sounds in the previous sections. A debate has already erupted in the media about what Fielder is doing and how ethical it is or isn’t. What does Fielder want with his social experiments? “You’re like Willy Wonka from the chocolate factory,” says Kor in the first episode. Fielder startled, ‘Wait, wasn’t that him bad guy in history?’ Kor clarifies: “Well, he had questionable features. But he makes dreams come true. And you do that for me now too.’ Fielder is not yet convinced: “But didn’t children die in his factory?” Willy Wonka or not, according to a majority of the audience and critics The exercise primarily fascinating television. This is TV you want, no, have to talk about.

Nathan Fielder in The Rehearsal.  Picture

Nathan Fielder in The Rehearsal.

The reality series is the big breakthrough for comedian Nathan Fielder, who grew up in a Jewish family in the Canadian city of Vancouver. As a child, Nathan was fascinated by comedy, but also magic and magic. First, however, he took a business degree at the University of Victoria. After graduation, he did not enter the business world, but the world of comedy and television. His first success was the series Nathan to you on Comedy Central (2013-2017), where he aims to help small entrepreneurs save their businesses. He keeps telling me how he studied at one of Canada’s ‘best business schools’, but then he comes up with pitches and ideas that are absurd.

For example, there is a much-discussed episode where Fielder comes up with a new concept for the owner of a not-so-successful coffee shop: ‘Dumb Starbucks’. He opens a coffee shop in Los Angeles, which in design is very similar to the well-known chain, but with the word stupid (‘stupid’) prefixed. You can order a ‘Dumb Chai Latte’, music is played by ‘Dumb Norah Jones’. Fielder made headlines with his cheeky stunt and people thought they were dealing with an art project by Banksy. In another episode, he advises failed estate agent Sue to advertise herself as the ‘ghost agent’. Research shows that a large proportion of Americans believe that ghosts haunt homes. That’s why Sue is encouraged to start selling houses that are ‘one hundred percent ghost free’.

Nathan Fielder in The Rehearsal.  Picture

Nathan Fielder in The Rehearsal.

Nathan Fielder’s TV is sometimes reminiscent of Sacha Baron Cohen, another comedian who ventures out into the real world and portrays people who make striking statements. Sacha Baron Cohen takes on the role of grotesque characters such as the Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev, thereby attracting politicians in particular. Nathan Fielder knows Baron Cohen and worked as a director on his latest TV series Who is America?, but is less politically oriented in its own programs. What the two do is show what extreme worldviews people sometimes have. It’s an interesting way to do comedy that thrives in today’s age of fake news and conspiracy theories, where many people have come to believe their own truth.

Also in The exercise this is fixed. For example, practice mother Angela absolutely will not celebrate Halloween because she is convinced that it is the ‘holiday of Satanism’. Angela: “It’s the day devil worshipers make sacrifices.” Fielder responds with a stern look: ‘Sacrifice? Where does it happen? I thought you just went door to door asking for candy’. Angela: ‘You can’t see it because it’s happening underground. Google it.’

Nathan Fielder (right) at The Rehearsal.  Picture

Nathan Fielder (right) at The Rehearsal.

Because Fielder has been given a big budget The exercise and with all the huge sets built, his series is also reminiscent of films such as The Truman Show (1998), in which the protagonist Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is unknowingly the protagonist of a reality show. The comparison is also necessary with screenwriter and filmmaker Charlie Kaufman’s work, especially his directorial debut. Synecdoche, New York from 2008. In this film, theater maker Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) rents a gigantic warehouse in New York, where he reconstructs his own life and hires actors to play the people around him (and himself).

Of The exercise does Nathan Fielder now have a sort of reality TV version of Synecdoche, New York created. While you may wonder if it is manipulative to involve unsuspecting Americans in his experiment, he gradually becomes the target of ridicule himself. In an interview with New York Magazine said Fielder in early July, “I am convinced that I myself am the most pathetic figure in anything I do.” Over the course of six episodes of The exercise see that this is indeed the case. In the end, you mainly laugh at the socially deficient Nathan Fielder, who gets entangled in his own megalomaniac, unrealistic project. In addition, he seems to be seriously struggling with the question of how he views fatherhood. His Jewish identity will also play a larger role. It gives The exercise – despite the extremely artificial circumstances – there is also something of emotion and even authenticity about it.

The exerciseweekly episodes on HBO Max. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008) will be broadcast on Sunday 14/8 on NPO 2 at 11.30 p.m

That’s how you do it with John Wilson

Nathan Fielder is also involved as a producer on the HBO series That’s how you do it with John Wilson. In this series is much less absurdism and much realism. Filmmaker John Wilson depicts life in New York City simply by walking through the city with his camera. Wilson asks a different question in each episode, such as “How do you make small talk?”, “How do you split the bill at the restaurant?” or ‘How do you invest in real estate?’ His personal view creates an idiosyncratic picture of city life. There’s plenty to laugh at too, due to the creative way Wilson edits his series and the dryly comic voice-overs he adds.

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