Long a window for reruns and forgettable realty shows, summer just got a lot hotter with Lifetime’s new TV drama. To put it plainly: If you’re not watching UnREAL, you’re doing summer wrong. Here’s why you need to tune in, tonight and every Monday after.
Its anti-hero will drive you mad in the best way possible.
Shiri Appleby stars as Rachel Goldberg, a killer producer on a reality TV show called “Everlasting,” which is basically The Bachelor. Her job is not only to keep things running smoothly, but to start drama when the show needs it—even if it means abusing her knowledge of the bachelorettes to stir the pot.
She’s brilliant in her manipulations, toying with people for her own personal gain while seeming genuinely concerned for their well-being. But being good at this job is throwing Rachel into serious crisis, and us too. Watching UnREAL you have the strange experience of rooting for and against Rachel at the same time, much the way we have for Nancy Botwin and Don Draper.
The plot’s so juicy you just can’t stop.
Sex, drugs, deception, mental illness, closeted lesbian love, and dirty business deals, they’re all here. And dished out in such generous servings that we’re lapping it up, yet craving more.
UnREAL is a show by women about women for everyone.
Think Orange Is The New Black. UnREAL was created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (based on her short film “Sequin Raze”) and Marti Noxon, who you might remember as a writer and producer on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. And like that kick-ass TV drama, this one is stuffed with female characters, good and bad, flawed and flawless. There’s a real attention put to character, and women in power in front of and behind the camera.
It reveals the ugly side of production.
Ever wonder what it’s like working on a shoot? UnREAL gives you peaks into those not so glamorous aspects you hear celebs complain about. For instance, when Rachel—exhausted from a long day on set—curls up in an equipment truck to sleep for the night, then wakes up the next morning and turns her panties inside out in lieu of showering. That’s some on set realness, friends. Hollywood!
The sex is suprisingly racy for cable.
English ingendude Freddie Stroma plays the picture perfect playboy who has a pesky predilection for blowjobs on the down low, sexting his ex, and other kinky activities best kept off “Everlasting”s cameras. But what’s bad for Rachel’s stress levels is good for us, giving ample opportunity to catch a glimpse of dat ass.
Bonus, Stroma’s one of the Harry Potter cabal who grew up hot. You might remember him as Quidditch player with a shit attitude, Cormac McLaggen.
There’s a new love triangle to form teams over.
Rachel is a magnet for self-sabotage, whether it’s hooking up with a camera guy who’d recently dumped his ex, or flirting with the bachelor she’s meant to coach to romance other women. But watching her feelings fluster over both her old flame and her new (could-be?) fling, will have you declaring yourself #TeamAdam #TeamJeremy or maybe just #TeamRachel.
It’s got Veep-level insults.
Things often get heated behind the scenes of “Everylasting,” but executive producer Quinn King (Constance Zimmer) is making her mark as TV’s latest bitch you love thanks to her no-nonsense demeanor and cutting comebacks. Sure, she can’t drop f-bombs like Selina Meyer. But with barbs like “Stop thinking with your clit,” she doesn’t need them.
You’ll never watch the Bachelor the same way again.
Much like Deadly Adoption reframed the way we think about Lifetime’s made-for-TV movies, UnREAL is urging audiences to reconsider how they think of reality TV. Sure, we all know it’s manipulated with editing. But UnREAL takes this lesson a step further, showing the lengths to which these producers will go to turn everyday women into infamous reality stars.
This is what a feminist show looks like.
In the pilot, Rachel turns up to the first day of shooting wearing a shirt that reads “This is what a feminist looks like.” Is that shirt meant as a manipulation to get the women she’s to wrangle to trust her? Or maybe she wears it sincerely? I’d argue both. And so UnREAL introduces an earnest message of how complex people—women included—actually are.
Reality TV would have you believe these contestants on a dumb dating show can be fully understood by their labels: angry black woman, uptight lawyer, desperate single-mom, the sexpot, the virgin, the bitch. But with each episode, UnREAL peels back the layers on these stereotypes and subverts them. As we watch Rachel fight to preserve her dignity in making the show-within-a-show, the actual show reclaims a bit of dignity for the fleets of females who’ve been burned on The Bachelor.
Lifetime is cool now.
UnREAL is scoring scads of critical acclaim, the kind that could make it a dark horse come the Emmys. It’s got a season two has already been ordered. So start watching now or be left out at the water cooler Tuesday morning.
UnREAL airs Monday nights on Lifetime at 10PM. Full episodes are available here.
Kristy Puchko may have already watched the first five episodes twice.