Well, At Least UnREAL Knows How Badly It Messed Up This Season
This week brought us the finale of the second, ultimately terrible, season of UnREAL. Throughout this season, as we’ve talked about here before, the show seemed to fall less and less out of touch with itself, stripping away all nuance, all self-awareness, basically everything that made season one such great satire. (Spoilers through the last episode, “Friendly Fire,” from here out.)
The season finale was tied up in about as bullshit of a little bow as you could have imagined. Darius got true love, which is an awesome ending on its own, but way too heavy on the HEY LOOK HOW AWFUL REALITY TV IS commentary when coming at the end of this particular season. Remember when season one made you see just how awful and damaging Everlasting was without having that message spelled out on preschool flashcards? Man, those were the days.
In further beautiful bow moments, Jeremy proved himself through (probable) murder, Quinn convinces Rachel she’s perfect, and no one has to feel any sort of ambiguity towards Coleman because in one throwaway line, we were reminded that he’d made a documentary, and now know he faked his subject matter.
And yet there’s one subject that the UnREAL team at least seems to know they screwed up. They’ve been making the interview rounds lately, and so have obviously been getting asked WTF were they thinking trying to take on police violence as told through the eyes of a white woman. And to their credit, their responses have not been nearly as defensive as they could have been. Because they’ve been getting torn apart since that episode aired, and as heavily as they’re going to lean on that “oh, we don’t pay attention to criticism” line, they know. Of course they know.
Shapiro: That was something we felt very strongly about doing from the beginning. I think the timing of what was happening in the world when the show aired made it even more combustible and controversial than we had intended. Specifically, there’s stuff that happens when you’re making TV, like there were more scenes in the script at the end of the show with Romeo and Darius but they got cut for production. That was one of those things that for me, I would go back and fight a lot harder to have those included in the show, but television is a fast, furious medium where we’re all working hard to get the show done and it just happens. We very much stand behind the integrity of the basic storytelling and I think the fact that we wanted to shine a light on that issue still feels very important to me.
Rukeyser: We always knew we were telling it through the prism of these two white female producers, in particular Rachel … It wasn’t just a police shooting story — it was always a police shooting story that was created from this monster of a machine. We always knew it was going to be that. Whether that’s an OK story to tell or not, that’s certainly up for discussion. There were scenes in the scripts for both episode seven, which was the shooting, and the following episode eight, which I co-wrote with Alex Metcalf, that originally had scenes with Romeo and Darius. If we could go back, I would have fought harder and cut something else, cut money from someplace else, in order to do them. It was always going to be this thing that Rachel made happen and a huge f—up and mistake on her part and the ramifications of that. Again, if that’s not an OK story to tell, that’s definitely a valid viewpoint. I still personally believe that I’d rather have more discussion of these issues than less. The more we talk about these things, the better.
Shapiro: Sometimes we’re almost a little too meta for our own good. We’re literally telling the story of “it’s not your story to tell” — Jay says the words, “It’s not your story to tell, Rachel” — and then people say that to us. The interesting thing about UnREAL is that it’s just a crazy combination of things. There’s really pulpy, fun entertainment that is sparkly and pretty and wild and off-the-rails, and then there’s 17-layered meta commentary on feminism and white privilege. I’m still proud of us for swinging for the fences and we legitimately feel like, yes, all of those comments are valid. Maybe it wasn’t our story to tell; it definitely wasn’t Rachel’s story to tell. It’s taking on big stuff and trying to do a lot in an hour of very entertaining television.
Sigh. If only they could have had the perspective going in to do the work to make it clear that Rachel was telling this story poorly instead of just telling it poorly themselves. Because they really did. Romeo gets shot point blank by the police, then shows up in the finale COMPLETELY FINE. All the explanation we get is that Quinn paid a bunch of people off. Rachel feels bad, but those feelings then turn out to really be because of her childhood rape.
But at least they seem to know they misfired. They swung for the fences and they hit themselves in the face with their own bat. It happens, I suppose.