One of the most talked about shows of the now is Lifetime’s UnREAL. Surrounded around the making of a reality show (that has a Bachelor-esque vibe) called Everlasting, UnREAL dives into the scandalous workings around the making of a television hit and the shenanigans that happen behind-the-scenes. The two central stars are Rachel (played by Shiri Appleby) and Quinn (played by Constance Zimmer) and this isn’t your typical on-screen female duo.
Now in its second season, UnREAL is continuing its intoxicating hold on audiences and critics alike, as it challenges what we are used to seeing on television. More so, it is the only show that really delves into the underpinnings of reality TV, which is programming that’s become the norm nowadays.
If you have watched the show you’re probably quite aware of its addictive storyline, but for those that haven’t taken the plunge, here are 10 reasons why you need to now.
It may be more real than you think, especially in regards to The Bachelor
While UnREAL is based on a fictional show named Everlasting, there are more than speculations surrounding its close comparison to The Bachelor franchise. In a recent interview with Us Weekly, former Bachelor contestant, Olivia Caridi, said, “Obviously there’s a little hyperbole involved in UnREAL. [But] there’s a reason Chris Harrison and The Bachelor are bothered by it.” She added: “It was freaky seeing the comparisons and being like, ‘That’s what happens.’” Caridi also touched on this season’s infamous houseguest, Chad Johnson, and how her and Chad were put in the “villain clique.” Another key detail: Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, co-creator of UnREAL, used to be a producer on The Bachelor. Knowing these kernels of insight makes watching UnREAL that much more enjoyable, everyone’s curious to know the real “truth,” right?
The incredible acting
Appleby may be best known as Liz Parker from the successful teen sci-fi show, Roswell and Zimmer has proved her acting chops in shows like Boston Legal, Entourage and House of Cards, but, their roles as Rachel and Quinn are unlike anything each woman has done before, and their acting skills are spot-on. It’s great to see these women showing how strong roles can help boost careers and image. I highly recommend you read this Vulture feature, which highlights Appleby’s comeback into acting, more so, her struggle to gain the respect she most certainly deserves. It’s not just Appleby and Zimmer that have impressed—Craig Bierko, Josh Kelly and last season’s Freddie Stroma and Johanna Braddy (from Quantico) are all names that have made the show’s impact that much stronger. Craig Bierko is simply phenomenal.
It’s breaking stereotypes
Two women in charge of a big franchised television show like Everlasting? How often have you seen that on primetime? While there are male “counterparts” (a.k.a. Chet, played by Craig Bierko), the show’s central figures are Rachel and Quinn. Not only are women at the centre in the fictional show, but UnREAL itself is run by three women and this season four out ten episodes were directed by women. Even Appleby got to sit in the director’s chair for the show, and the show within the show. Both female leads are tough, savvy, intelligent, humourous and beautiful—anything but the one-dimensional characters we often see women having to play to get “noticed” by executives. These two aren’t any man’s arm candy, unless they’ve got their own agenda of course. And, who can overlook Rachel’s schlubby upkeep and questionable behaviour while wearing the badass “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt? Just gold.
It flips sexism on its head
To further the previous point: UnREAL isn’t your generic PG-13 kind of show. It deals with scandal, sex, pregnancy, suicide, depression, drugs, insecurity, intimacy—the list goes on. Furthermore, it shows an equal playing field among men and women, where cutthroat jabs and lines like “I can shoot ping pong balls out of my vagina but no one wants to see that either” spew from strong, unapologetic women who will not be silenced. These same women aren’t afraid to call out men asking them: “How long does it take you to take out your tampon or whatever?” Or when Chet gets scrappy with Quinn and says, “May the best man win,” and Quinn quickly responds, “she usually does.” UnREAL draws on the same commonalities seen in other empowering shows like Broad City and Girls, but in its own original, salacious and often dirty way.
The drama is so addictive
The drama seen on UnREAL is unlike any other show on television right now. Sure there are the so-called “catfights” and constant competitive hate between the Everlasting contestants, but it’s what happens behind-the-scenes that makes for a truly pleasurable experience. Watching as Quinn and Rachel tear people’s lives apart, hunting for the women’s hidden insecurities with Quinn asking “Do you have my trainwreck ready?” on the regular is such guilty fun to watch. The show highlights how producers get contestants to cry and then rile them up to want to “get their man” at whatever costs necessary. This cutthroat, ruthlessness is drama you don’t want to turn off and there’s always a surprise left to grab you. Better too—it’s something that can be enjoyed by men and women. So after you’ve sucked your man into watching The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, you can then tune into UnREAL to get more laughs. It’s no coincidence UnREAL airs right after The Bachelor on Monday nights.
Appleby and Zimmer’s cunning chemistry
Shiri and Constance share this undeniable bond on screen with each character’s hunger for drama trumping any other female duo on television from the past or present. They’re evil smirks, sometimes lack of human empathy, and competitive spirits show there is a place for women who apparently “think like men” but better. While Shiri’s character, Rachel may have more of a moral compass than Quinn, both women come together in feisty and hilarious ways and this relationship is bloody intoxicating to watch. This season the friction between the two women is taken to extremes with the notion of “battling it out” taking on a whole new meaning.
It challenges race
The Bachelor has never had an African-American man or woman as its central figure. With 20 seasons now under the franchise’s belt and not one of those leading men being black, there’s no denying The Bachelor’s race problem. However, season two of Everlasting welcomes its first African-American bachelor. What’s better is the blatant focus on this matter, which sees one of the contestants, a white woman, sporting a “Confederate flag bikini” that undoubtedly offends a fellow black contestant. When categorizing each of the women into categories such as “wifey,” “villain” and “slut,” there is specific reference to a black female contestant’s “category” with Quinn noting: “Hey, it’s not my fault America’s racist.” Also, upon hearing that the new bachelor is African-American, there is a scene with Quinn speaking to the head network executive (a middle-aged white man) who is furious about this change. Quinn remarks: “Oh I forgot to tell you…he’s black, ugh like football black.” No one is tiptoeing around the subject and that’s a huge step forward when talking about race.
The provocative dialogue
When watching UnREAL there’s no shortage of sizzling one-liners, hilarious puns and words of reflect. This dynamic is what makes for a show that has you laughing, cringing and thinking all at the same time—you can’t help but pay attention to the talented writing. More so, it’s the balance between the raunchy “I know you think you’re televising the revolution, but right now we need wet panties” to “It takes an iron spine and a steady hand to do this job” commentary.
Critics love it
Not only has UnREAL gained a large fan following, but the TV critics and associations are also praising it. The show has already won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Constance Zimmer), and it’s well on its way to snagging more wins. This week the Television Critics Association released its 32nd annual TCA Award nominations with UnREAL securing three noms. Notable outlets like Indiewire, Marie Claire and The New York Times have all check-marked the show. To see what they’ve said head here.
It’s a success story for a non-conventional TV channel/network
We all love to root for the underdog and you could look at Lifetime as being a sort of underdog in the network world. Geared toward women, Lifetime’s image has quickly strengthened over the past three years, delving into TV movies (Flowers in the Attic) and programming (Devious Maids) that is engaging and original. Before it was all about the major networks battling for a series, but now you see shows like House of Cards, Mr. Robot and The Path dominating on unconventional platforms like Netfilx, AMC and Hulu. UnREAL is Lifetime’s slice of the pie and that is an original programming triumph worth noting.
UnREAL airs Mondays at 10 on Lifetime