In “Finding Frances,” the instant classic series finale of his Comedy Central show Nat for you, Nathan Fielder tries to help Bill, an old man who appeared in a previous episode, find a long lost love. At one point, Fielder hires an actress to play Frances, to help Bill train for the potential reunion. And as the search for the real Frances stalls, Fielder begins to question the true nature of what he filmed. He recounts, “The more we kept filming stuff, the harder it was to tell where the show ended and life began.”
Fielder’s long-awaited follow-up project, the HBO docu-comedy Repetitiontakes those ideas from “Finding Frances” and turns them into an entire series – a series that’s bolder and more thoughtful, and sometimes funnier, than Nat for you.
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On Nat for you, Fielder claimed to help small businesses attract more customers through poorly designed marketing programs. Here, the target is smaller but more emotional, and his attempted solution far more complicated: strangers come to Fielder with personal situations they fear they’re not ready for, and he helps them prepare by hosting rehearsals. developed from the event. In the premiere, for example, a teacher is afraid to tell members of his bar’s trivia team that he lied to them for years about his education, while much of the season involves that Fielder creates a simulation of parenthood — using real children, aging every few days — for Angela, a single woman unsure whether she should have children.
Executing those rehearsals goes far beyond anything Fielder did on “Finding Frances” — as much a reflection of HBO’s budgets versus Comedy Central as it is of Fielder’s growing ambitions. He builds an exact and working replica of the bar where the teacher intends to confess to a member of the trivia team, so the teacher can practice. And when he fears the two old friends will be distracted if they do poorly on the quiz on the night of their one-on-one, Fielder scrambles to acquire the answers, then incepts them into the teacher while seeming to do small talk on walks through New York. To comply with child labor laws, the parenting simulation involves babies, then toddlers, being turned off every few hours while Angela’s back is turned. (Because young children can’t work at night at all, a remote control robot sleeps in the crib, only to be woken up by someone watching a real baby on a monitor every time the real baby cries at night. This solution is as ridiculous and difficult to execute as it sounds.)
The scale and absurdity of each project is hilarious in itself. When Fielder becomes bored during the extended rehearsal of fake parenthood in Oregon, he has the bar transported across the country so he can spend time there, and later turns it into a real business. Nathan and Angela discuss Christmas against Chanukah while the house is surrounded by snow; eventually, the camera pulls back to reveal that it is artificial snow, and only on this property. (“Winter, it turns out, is very expensive to maintain,” he admits to us.) To make sure he doesn’t run out of actors for all those rehearsals, Nathan opens an acting school in Los Angeles. to teach “The Fielder Method,” and his attempts to understand the struggles of one of his students recall the old joke about a man who believes the Earth rests on a pile of turtles that descend to the very bottom. Only then , all turtles are Nathan.
One of the permanent sources of humor on Nat for you was the naked desperation of Fielder — or, at least, his lonely on-screen persona — to befriend his subjects, and the sheer clumsiness of his attempts to do so. Between that aspect and how Fielder could do more harm than good to these real people and their real businesses, this show tended to set off my second-hand sympathy alarms, which made it something I could look up to. while only being able to sit down occasionally. Full episode
. It has often been the same for me and for the work of Albert Brooks, whose 1979 film Real lifeis one of the many clear inspirations for
Repetition elevates this struggle in a key part of the text. In the very first scene, Nathan says: “I was told that my personality could make people uncomfortable. We soon find out that he’s participating in his own rehearsals to prepare for the show’s subjects – with actors playing the subjects and Nathan (usually) playing himself – sometimes trying out different avenues of conversation, sometimes preparing to a difficult conversation. he does not know how to have. Is this the real Fielder working through his issues or just his on-screen persona from “Nathan?” As was the case with “Finding Frances,” it is difficult to determine where the boundary between the two lies; in one episode, Fielder’s parents visit the production and offer very strong opinions on how their son works hard to avoid confrontation, no matter the personal cost, in a way that clearly confirms how we have seen behave so far. But whether that part is real or performative, the idea that either Nathan uses
improving his own life, as well as that of each subject, makes the series both sweeter to watch and more empathetic and poignant as a whole. The comedy doesn’t go away just because the concept is so weird, and the Fielder method in every way is so ridiculous. But the rehearsals elicit genuine feelings from many participants in a way that can feel as surprising as it is cathartic. And the season’s structure — which weaves self-contained repeating stories into Angela’s larger arc — only adds to the air of surreality that surrounds the entire series. When Angela begins to worry that the show is making fun of her, Nathan replies, “Nobody’s the joke! The situations are funny, but interesting too! Despite the massive amounts of artifice shown throughout production, this is true. Even Fielder is only vaguely the joke this time around, which makes the overall comedy funnier and the more serious parts that much richer. “I began to wonder,” Fielder observes at one point, “how I could so easily create feelings inside other people when I couldn’t for myself.” Whether it’s a real fight for Nathan Fielder or just something he’s rehearsing for his new TV show,
Repetition will create many feelings inside whoever watches it, starting with vast amusement and ending in tears even in the most fake parts. It’s a big. Repetition
premieres July 15
on HBO, with episodes released weekly. I saw five of the six episodes of the season.
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