The anticipation for the premiere of Nathan Fielder’s new HBO show, The Rehearsal, was feverish. It had been five years since the comedian’s acclaimed series Nathan For You came to an end, and fans were dying to know what awkward, uncanny, hilarious direction his work might take next. The first episode, which aired on July 15th, delivered with a concept like nothing attempted on TV before. Crucially, though, it preserved one of Fielder’s greatest strengths.
The man has unparalleled drip.
Earlier in the episode, Fielder is compelled to create a fake blog called “Thrifty Boy” as a pretext for contacting someone who writers her own blog about fun, free activities in New York City. Then he needs to gain insider information from a man who runs a bar trivia business, so he recycles the fake blog concept to suit a different purpose — this being both an efficient and unnecessary choice is part of what makes Fielder a genius — and dons the disguise of a “Thrifty Boy,” all mismatched, ill-fitting clothes, including a jacket with part of the tag still on.
The absurdity of the fit, intended to amuse the viewer, also transforms it into elevated fashion, which is, in turn, even funnier. Yet whoever Fielder interacts with while dressed this way will have to assimilate it as normal streetwear — which, of course, it could be! A great joy of Nathan For You that seems to have carried into The Rehearsal is seeing Fielder go undercover with the aid of costume and styling alone: He never modulates his deadpan voice or placid demeanor, never acts the character, only looks it. He becomes the slightly different Nathan from another universe. And in so doing, he poetically conveys just how the clothes make the man.
Huge credit is due to Laura Wheeler, the key costumer on Nathan For You, and Briana Jorgenson, costume designer for The Rehearsal, who have dressed Fielder’s staid personality in edgier, often try-hard looks that have you laughing before he’s even said a word. They succeed by playing against Fielder’s normal working attire, a bland business casual of tucked-in button-down shirts and slacks, sometimes a polo or plain sweater, nothing bolder than plaid or checkered patterns. These outfits — which by all indications are to Fielder’s own taste — can serve a need for neutrality, or disappearing within a scene, though they also allow him to appear professional and trustworthy to people he’s deceiving. Best of all is when he tries for an affect contrary to his own, thereby calling attention to the also incongruous conservatism of his officewear. For example, when he attempts to chill and “bro out” with dudes in a man cave.
It’s also a pleasure to watch as Fielder’s scheming forces him to abandon these safe, basic ensembles for increasingly distinctive and high-stakes garb, from a “Dumb Starbucks” manager’s uniform to the full Santa’s elf getup (worn in summer) to a plastic suit full of chili that prevents him from using the bathroom. The discomfort that comes with any of this is sublimated into his greatest superpower: control. Fielder puts himself in situations, and in garments, that would embarrass anyone, or send them into fits of panic, but his blood pressure doesn’t spike. I’m not even sure if he sweats. It’s the cool detachment of a runway supermodel, nothing less.
So enjoy this season of The Rehearsal, and while you’re squirming in your seat, be sure to note the uncanny confidence that Fielder radiates when he puts on a ridiculous costume to further his convoluted plans. If that’s the attitude it takes to pull off groundbreaking TV, it’s also the secret to rocking your riskiest fashion choices. Grab a bucket hat — it’s Thrifty Boy Summer.