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The Most Cringe-Worthy Moments In Nathan Fielder's The Rehearsal

Fans of Nathan Fielder's work are used to treading into uncomfortable waters. The Canadian comedian is best known for his Comedy Central pseudo-reality show "Nathan For You," which found him helping small business owners with out-of-the-box ideas to boost their success. Take, for instance, the frozen yogurt store he convinces to sell poo-flavored yogurt to attract curious customers or the antique shop where he takes advantage of their "you break it, you buy it" policy by making the store's aisles more narrow. 

As noted by The Ringer, the subtle art of cringe humor has been a focus of Nathan's throughout his career, from YouTube videos of him dancing to Shakira to his work as an executive producer on his other HBO project, "How To with John Wilson." All this has culminated in his latest series on HBO's "The Rehearsal" where the comedian returns to his docu-reality roots to help specific people rehearse big moments in their life. 

These rehearsals end up involving elaborate sets recreating real-life locations, trained actors studying real-life subjects, and more unconventional methods of helping people prepare for confrontations or life experiences. This premise makes way for some of Nathan's cringiest interactions yet, though some of the six-episode series' hardest-to-watch moments are when it gets profoundly dark and sincere. Still, we'll be thinking about these memorable cringe moments from "The Rehearsal" for a long time, whether we like it or not. 

A confession over trivia

The first episode of "The Rehearsal" puts Nathan's experiment to the test with Kor Skeete, a New Yorker who responded to a Craigslist post offering to help strangers with problems they are avoiding. Kor faces a simple dilemma: years ago, he went along with his trivia team's assumption that he had a master's degree when he only ever earned a bachelor's. Now, with Nathan's help, Kor will get the chance to rehearse his confession to Tricia, a member of his trivia team who Kor fears will judge him. 

However, the friendship with Tricia is not the only thing at stake. Nathan sets Kor up with an elaborate recreation of a Brooklyn bar, where he will meet Tricia for a one-on-one trivia night. The rehearsal begins to go awry when Kor focuses more on his success at trivia than his confession, causing him to tell Nathan that he won't be able to confess if it costs him a win. Nathan's solution is to acquire that night's trivia answers in advance and subtly implant them in Kor's memory through ordinary interactions. 

This sequence tests the suspension of disbelief in Nathan's experiment as he leads Kor to strangers who inorganically spout fun facts at them for no clear reason. The best — and possibly most cringe-inducing example of this — is a police officer who tells them about a hostage situation nearby before stating, "It's days like these that I curse the Chinese for inventing gunpowder." 

Angela's dream home

As noted by Vulture, "The Rehearsal" is one of the most ambitious projects Nathan has embarked on yet. The show doesn't waste any time getting to work, as Episode 2 launches Nathan into the deepest rehearsal the season will explore. After meeting with Angela, a woman on the fence about becoming a mother, Nathan offers to create an elaborate simulation in which Angela will speed-run motherhood from infancy to 18 years over the course of 2 months. The idea is to make the scenario as realistic to Angela's dream of motherhood as possible, which proves to be more tricky when considering how particular Angela is. 

This brings Nathan and his crew to rural Oregon, where they create Angela's dream home. She wants a farm with crops and animals, which, to make up for the rapid movement of the simulation, involves Nathan's crew replacing the planted seeds with fully grown crops overnight. The baby-raising also had its own set of challenges, specifically regarding the use of child actors. The infant actors would need to be seamlessly replaced without Angela noticing. 

However, within the first episode he works with Angela, Nathan begins to question her motivations. His crew has essentially given Angela her dream home and dream life without any of the consequences of becoming a real mother. Thankfully, for his viewers that love cringe humor, the complexity of Angela's situation will only grow as the episodes continue. 

Everything about Robbin

Fortunately for Angela, nothing she does in Episode 2 of "The Rehearsal" makes her cringier than Robbin. Nathan sets Angela up on several dates with the hopes of introducing a father into her rehearsal, and Angela takes a liking to a born-again Christian named Robbin. Despite mentioning several times that he crashed a Scion tC at 100 mph, Angela is interested in letting Robbin play father to Adam, the name she's given her son who will be played by multiple child actors. 

This results in a sequence where Nathan accompanies Robbin on a trip to his home to gather his belongings. The journey becomes arduous for Nathan as the cameras catch Robbin's obsession with numerology and argumentative dynamic with his roommate. As they leave, Robbin implies that his roommate is possessed, just before Nathan notices his car doesn't have a license plate, to which Robbin explains he doesn't need it. Robbin also expresses a desire to be intimate with Angela, despite her insistence to remain abstinent until marriage. 

Unfortunately for any viewers who were enjoying watching Robbin's cringey antics, he doesn't last long in the simulation. Fed up with the overnight crying of a robotic baby, Robbin leaves the house in the middle of the night, never to return. This may be for the best for both parties, as Robbin himself confessed to Vice that he was dissatisfied with how the show treated him. Still, that probably pales in comparison to how he treated his Scion tC. 

Patrick's breaking point

In Episode 3, Nathan balances his new duties as a co-parent with a new rehearsal for a man named Patrick. Similar to the first rehearsal with Kor, Patrick wants to prepare for a confrontation with his brother over getting his share of their grandfather's will. However, the brother is reluctant to give that inheritance to Patrick as he apparently tends to date partners who are only interested in money. This proves to be a problematic rehearsal for Nathan to sink his teeth into, as Patrick appears emotionally detached and even spouts an anti-Semitic comment or two

This becomes the perfect opportunity to kick things up a notch. Nathan stages a situation where the actor playing Patrick's brother invites him to help his grandfather literally dig for gold, which the grandfather promises to give to Patrick. Days later, the actor's fake grandfather "passes away," and the actor confronts Patrick over his fake grandfather's will, which dictated that Patrick would be given the gold, though the actor is again hesitant due to his gold-digging girlfriend.

That all may seem like a lot to wrap your mind around, because it is. However, it's enough to provoke a breakthrough in Patrick's rehearsal when he breaks down in tears over not being able to grieve. Unfortunately, it all may have been too much, as Patrick leaves the rehearsal that day and never returns. It's quite a cringe-inducing moment to see Nathan maybe go too far to challenge his rehearsal participants. 

Nathan becomes Thomas

As if Patrick's rehearsal wasn't enough, Nathan decides to push the boundaries between him and his subjects even further in Episode 4. Returning to Los Angeles, Nathan starts an acting class called "The Fielder Method" to train actors to be a part of rehearsals. This method involves Nathan's students following a primary and learning possible as they can about their life to portray them. While most of the students take to the assignment, one student, named Thomas, fears this is borderline stalking. 

The only way Nathan can explore Thomas' mindset is by reenacting his own classes, this time choosing Thomas as his primary. Through Thomas' eyes, Nathan expresses confusion at the concept of the show, but feels a desire to be on camera. His conversations with an actor playing Nathan create more doubt in Thomas' mind, but Nathan commits to the method anyway. He even uses the real Thomas' struggle with the Fielder Method to get closer to him. It begs the question: at what point is Nathan the teacher, and at what point is he his own subject? 

After moving Thomas out of his own home to live in an apartment like his primary, Nathan moves into Thomas' house, eating his food and sleeping in his bed. At this point, critics like those at Forbes and The A.V. Club observed that "The Rehearsal" has crossed a completely new threshold in terms of cringe humor, blurring the lines between what's funny and what's just downright creepy. 

Adam overdoses

By the time Nathan returns to Oregon after his work with the Fielder Method actors, he finds that Adam is now 15 years old. The actor playing Adam awkwardly but enthusiastically greets Nathan, who is beginning to feel disillusioned with the simulation. Nathan comes to the conclusion that it's because he's abandoned Adam for the equivalent of almost a decade, and the warm reception feels unearned. In a one-on-one with the actor, Joshua, Nathan asks for a do-over, this time exploring how Adam would truly react to his father returning home after nine years of absence. 

Basing his performance on people he knows, Joshua becomes a new type of Adam. He begins to rebel against his "parents" and uses drugs, which calls back to a conversation Nathan and Angela had about her past drug use, which she claims resulted from anger towards her father. Nathan is essentially putting himself and Angela in the position of her father, navigating a teenager heading down a dark path. A confrontation between them and Adam only makes it worse. 

Eventually, Nathan enters Adam's room at night to find him overdosing on drugs. Horrified, he calls Angela down, and she finds Nathan holding their dying son in his arms. Paramedics arrive (all played by Fielder Method actors, including Thomas) to save Adam's life, but Adam runs away. After Nathan finds him, a neat camera trick replaces the 15-year-old Adam with a 6-year-old actor so that Nathan can restart his parenting journey. 

Nathan and Angela argue over religion

At the start of Episode 5, Nathan fully commits to the parenting simulation with Angela. After introducing his parents to 6-year-old Adam, Nathan finds himself worrying about his own assertiveness in relationships. This particularly relates to the discussion of Adam's religious upbringing. Angela is a devout Christian, while Nathan is Jewish. When Nathan tries to bring up the idea to Angela that they raise Adam under both denominations, she's fervently against it. The conversation becomes even more futile when Angela innocently mentions that her favorite director is Mel Gibson

Nathan takes matters into his own hands and begins secretly taking Adam to synagogue and meets with a tutor to educate Adam on Judaism. Nathan disguises this ruse as Adam taking swimming lessons, even going so far as to train Adam to recite information to Angela in case she questions what he did that day. It can be very hard for viewers to watch as Nathan goes to such extreme lengths to conceal something from Angela, even when his goal is to establish assertiveness and put his foot down on something that's important to him. 

Nathan's rehearsal with fake Angela

In Episode 5, religious upbringing isn't the only thing adding tension to the simulated household. After reviewing footage from while he was gone, he finds that Angela isn't as committed to the rehearsal as he is. She addresses the Adam actors by their real names and ignores her supposed motherly duties. Nathan decides to confront Angela, though he won't do it without knowing how every situation will play out. 

Nathan hires one of his former Fielder Method students, Anna Lamadrid, to play Angela in these rehearsals. Nathan accuses fake Angela of denying him the experience he wants while not being invested in the simulation on her own. The confrontation heightens as fake Angela questions the whole point of the show and whether or not she's meant to be the laughingstock of the show. While Nathan is trying to question her motives, she questions his in an exchange that Inverse notes almost makes him seem like the villain of the show. As fake Angela puts it, "if this were real, you would have some sort of emotion instead of standing there like a rock." 

At this point, the show has moved far beyond cringe humor. Perhaps the most chilling moment of all is this sincere, deeply emotional scene where fake Angela challenges Nathan's motivations behind giving people a chance to rehearse their lives. Sadly, Nathan never gets this far in his real conversation with Angela, who decides to quit the rehearsal rather than compromise. 

The quiet birthday party

Episode 6 of "The Rehearsal" is the finale, finding Nathan taking on parenting duties for Adam by himself. It's unclear what the point of the simulation is anymore without Angela, as everything now seems to center on Nathan's wants. Nevertheless, production continues to go smoothly, aside from Nathan having to unteach Judaism to a 6-year-old child actor playing Adam.

Everything culminates in a birthday party Nathan throws for Adam, transitioning him from 6 to 9 years old. Given their seclusion in Oregon, however, Nathan must hire partygoers to celebrate with him and Adam. Unfortunately, these partygoers are professional background actors who cannot speak due to union rules. What proceeds is one of the most awkward situations in all six episodes of "The Rehearsal" as Nathan tries to carry on through the party while communicating with the mute actors. 

The entire scenario ends up being oddly eerie and quiet, as Nathan sings happy birthday to Adam while the hired extras mouth the words. The cracks in Nathan's facade are beginning to show, despite his efforts to keep things moving. However, this birthday party ends up making way for the most disastrous consequence of Nathan's efforts to rehearse parenthood. 

Nathan takes on a new role

Following the birthday party, Nathan learns that one of the child actors, 6-year-old Remy, doesn't want to leave. He learns from Remy's mother, Amber, that the child is fatherless. As a result, he's grown attached to his "pretend daddy." Nathan's efforts to tell Remy it wasn't real don't go well, as Remy insists that he wants Nathan to be his daddy, leading Nathan to ponder what he could've done to prevent this from happening. 

Of course, Nathan's solution is to re-enact the rehearsal, hiring other actors to play Remy to test different parenting approaches. After that fails, Nathan questions if he should've tried harder to keep Angela around, resulting in failed attempts at reconciliation with fake Angela. However, it's Nathan's conversations with Amber that enlighten his situation. While Nathan is uncertain about Remy's ability to adapt, Amber is more confident, claiming there are certain things that parents unconsciously know about their children. 

What Nathan takes from this conversation is that he needs to relive the rehearsal through the eyes of Amber, casting the 9-year-old playing Adam to be Remy, while the fake Nathan from the Fielder Method class re-enactments returns. However, this strange, surreal experience blurs the lines even more for Nathan, who at one point tells Remy he's his father rather than his mother. With Deadline reporting that "The Rehearsal" has been renewed for a second season, audiences can expect things to only get more cringy — if that's even possible.