“The Rehearsal” has never been an easy series to pin down. Throughout the magnificent first season, the questions piled up with each new episode: Is it real or is it fake? How real and how much fake? What does “real” even mean, in the context of a show about rehearsing for life’s biggest moments by playing out every possible scenario beforehand? And between birthday parties with no dialogue, dialogue tree conversations, and a bar on a stage that only has an operating license for booze, don’t get me started on what might constitute a “fake.”
Where some have seen hard-hitting reality TV commentary, others have seen real reality TV. When some fans compulsively rewatched episodes to appreciate their intricate construction, impressive production, or lines they missed the first time through laughing too much, others were physically rejected from what they considered a diabolical comedy. What was too extreme for some to be believed turned out to be too believably extreme for others.
Calling a series so eager to be indefinable isn’t a requirement…until it comes to the awards. The Emmys ask contenders to submit to specific categories, and as befits the vast landscape of television, more than 100 winners are named in three separate ceremonies. Reality shows may compete in the Unstructured, Structured, or Competition categories. Variety shows have Talk, Sketch, and two specialty categories (live and pre-recorded). There are documentary and non-fiction series and specials, Emmys for Special Achievements, and of course the big three: comedy, drama, and limited series. Where a series features (and in what subcategories) has become press scoop, as every artist, program, and network jockeys for a position in the annual gold rush.
So where oh where did “The Rehearsal” land? Right where it belongs and where it’s needed: comedy series.
Membership is questionable. There is an argument to be made: Fielder’s work fits into the unstructured reality race, as the category is “for programs that contain story elements driven by the actions of civilian and/or celebrity participants and lack a coherent model.” and structured and a standardized model of action”. A story driven by the actions of a civilian? Like when Robbin, a civilian turned…celebrity, drove his Scion TC 100 miles per hour? Or when Robbin carried Nathan around—at much safer speeds—while he was as tall as a kite? Or, if we don’t take “driven” so literally, when the second half of the season is taken up with Angela’s one never-ending trial? And while I would happily watch Nathan help one participant a week, as in the first episode with Kor, the series never conforms to a “consistent, structured pattern.”
However, that lack of coherence is partly why “The Rehearsal” is hard to accept as a reality show. Last year’s nominees in the Unstructured category include “Love on the Spectrum,” “Selling Sunset,” and “Cheer.” None of these series set out to achieve the same goals as ‘The Rehearsal’, nor do they pursue their ambitions in similar ways. “Love on the Spectrum” is a serious character study of people on the autism spectrum looking for romance. “Cheer” is closer to a straight documentary, following a college cheerleading squad on its path to a national title. “Selling Sunset” offers a lot cushion melodrama meant to elicit gasps about lavish Los Angeles homes and the diva-like demeanor of real estate agents. In other words, they’re not trying to be funny — they’re not comedies, and much of what makes “The Rehearsal” great is rooted in its sharp humor.
Similar splits keep “The Rehearsal” out of the Documentary and Variety categories (although I’m not sure if it would ever qualify for the latter), but perhaps more important than where it technically belongs is where it actually is. necessary. And it’s clear (at least to this critic) that the race for best comedy series needs “The Rehearsal.”
Why? For one thing, it was the best show of 2022, and the best show of any given year should go after whichever Emmy category offers the most popular. But looking at this year’s top contenders for this year’s comedy series, it’s clear we need some mayhem energy — check it out. We need some positive energy of chaos. A slew of former candidates look set to snag the slots, despite falling out in their final seasons. Season 3 of “Ted Lasso” is like watching the slowest, longest train wreck of all time. “Only Murders in the Building” still has its explosive cast and comforting design, but season 2 could have used a few decision trees to keep from turning into such a mess. And “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”? I’ve been told it’s still around, and the fifth and final season is better than the last, but let’s not pretend it’s still in the top eight comedies on TV.
Old brawlers have a way of bogging down award contests, but I can’t say there’s much to get excited about even among favorite freshman comedies. “Shrinking” and “Wednesday” may not seem like they have much in common, but they both do as soon as they qualify as comedies, and there’s only one award-worthy element in each: Harrison Ford and Jenna Ortega, respectively. And speaking of non-comedies: how did “The Bear” convince everyone that it’s one of the funniest shows out there? Don’t get me wrong: The FX production available only on Hulu is compulsive viewing, but it’s also incredibly stressful and steeped in tragedy. One could say the same thing about “Barry,” another top contender, but at least Bill Hader’s near-complete HBO series has always been a dark comedy — and even in its darkest moments, there are still jokes.
“The Rehearsal” has jokes, mashed potato. Many jokes. It also has incredible production value for craftsmen to appreciate and an elaborate structure for writers to admire. Every faction of the TV Academy should find something to love about Season 1, even the acting branch. Whether they think it’s scripted or more off the cuff, Fielder is giving a performance that holds the show together. It is simultaneously the joker and the heartbeat; the anti-hero and the hero. Those who see the show and connect with it should have no problem voting for it in the Comedy category. From my review of the finale:
“’The Rehearsal’ tells the audience what it’s about right from the start: It’s a TV show and Nathan Fielder is the protagonist. (…) Between the ever-expanding flowcharts and evidence within evidence, the series needed a nucleus, it needed a plot, and what better than to serve as the beating heart of a story of the beating heart of its central character? (…) It’s Nathan’s search for answers that holds the first season together, and the resolution he arrives at that makes this ‘complex emotional experience’ so rewarding.
To be clear: “The Rehearsal” is a gamble just to be named. The ratings have always been of the “cult hit” type, and the Internet’s favorite program doesn’t always coincide with the preferences of the TV Academy. (Not long ago “Modern Family” won the category four times, ahead of other populist picks like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Schitt’s Creek.”) But seeing it among the eight nominated comedy series would be an Emmy win as much. as much as the show. The race needs a break – if not to honor a worthy entry and engage TV fans, then to make voters think twice before checking the box for the shows themselves – and “The Rehearsal” was made to to interrupt.