UnREAL on Lifetime

Is anybody else watching this, or even aware that it exists?

UnREAL is a show on Lifetime that’s sort of a SportsNight / Studio 60, but applied to The Bachelor. It’s a weird combination of super-heightened while also feeling accurate to the way that these shows are manufactured and produced. It isn’t realistic, but it uses an understanding of the kind of storyline-editing and emotional manipulation that those sorts of reality shows make their stock-in-trade.

I’ve never watched the Bachelor but it’s oddly compelling. There’s a surprising amount of fast-talking, and some very on-the-nose but still pretty biting commentary about the world of reality TV (for instance, the implicit racism in The Bachelor franchise is made explicit). The emotional manipulation elements go into some surprisingly dark places, as wel see the toll it takes not only on the targets, but on the main character (a producer) who has to act like a sociopath to manipulate the characters into the reactions she needs to make a good TV show.

I don’t know where this show came from. The actors seem to be TV character actors, the directors appear to be lifer-TV director types, and the producers’ credits include The Bachelor, Buffy, and half a season of Mad Men. And the network is, as noted, Lifetime.

I’m hedging my bets and saying it’s surprisingly good so far (2 episodes in). It could fall apart at any moment, but for the time being it’s definitely been my surprise show of the year. I think it’s a mini / event series (10 episodes or something?) , so it’s possible they’ll hold it together for the whole run.

I probably should have picked a vaguer thread title to trick people into clicking on it.

NPR rather liked it.

I’m just so allergic to reality TV, I don’t think I could swallow unreality TV either.

Actually, that’s what draws me to want to watch it. I HATE reality TV, so this shiow looks like it would click for me…reinforcing everything i hate about reality TV.

I recently watched this after it made some “Best TV of 2015” list-- man, this was fantastic.

I liked the show but I hated everyone by the end which made it hard to watch. After the murder coverup anyway – just so dark and hard to enjoy the manipulation and lies after that.

Lots of good meta conversations that sometimes manage to work at like three different levels at once: the in-universe reality show script, what’s actually being communicated by the characters in that reality show on the show we’re watching, and a commentary on reality tv and television generally.

Yes, supposedly the showrunner was hired out of school for a “pay the rent” gig with a 10 year contract to produce some highschool musical reality show, then they sold her contract to the Bachelor. She hated it, for all the reasons shown on Unreal, and they wouldn’t let her quit until she threatened to kill herself. So she has strong convictions on how poisonous these shows really are.

My wife and I also just watched the first season in the last few weeks. Excellent, and can’t wait for season 2.

New season started this week.

It has a much harder job this year, since it has last year to live up to, and also has baggage of existing characters and relationships to wrangle. They’re clearly aware of those issues, and have shaken up a couple of relationships just enough to get new angles. (Chad is equally irritating, but in a delightful new way.) There was a teensy bit of eye-rolling “yes, yes, everybody realizes everybody is terrible”, but the first season did that occasionally, too.

They’re also leaning into some of the more critical views of The Bachelor-culture, highlighting the racism angle as one of their key tent poles this season.

The dialog writing is still fantastic, and the main reason to tune in.

I only watched season one a month ago via Hulu. Doesn’t look like they’ll have the new season to stream as it airs, so I guess it’ll be after the season ends before I can get around to watching it again, but I’m still looking forward to it.

I need to go back and finish watching season 1 . Both Shirri Appleby and Constance Zimmer were terrific in this. It was weirdly compelling.

The first episode on Monday was absolutely excellent. I cannot wait to see where they go with this. I love how they’re tackling not just racism this season, but commenting on the outright misogyny in Hollywood too. Specifically:

S2E01 spoilers

The way Chet is able to completely undermine Rachel and Quinn by exploiting the fact that his bros at the network don’t give a fuck that he was fired. Titles and legitimate jobs don’t matter anymore when the ladies are trying to show they’re more capable than you.

It’s just so freaking good.

That last episode really touched on some current issues there…
What do you guys think, should they have postponed the episode? Did the show finally cross a line?

No, absolutely not.

The whole point of this season is to make a deliberate political statement about racism in TV culture, but also in society in general. This isn’t a coincidence where they happened to write a script that happened to mirror something that happened in real life 10 months later. I feel confident saying the episode was written as a direct response to BLM and various police shootings (I don’t have a statement from the show runners but it’s pretty clear). To delay or censor the episode would be to miss the entire point of it.

Now, I also generally don’t feel that holding back TV shows episodes in response to current events makes sense. I think it’s the response of overly nervous, controversy averse TV execs, and has little to do with the content or the actual responses of the viewing public. But I think that in this particular case, not airing the episode would have been particularly missing the point.

I’m not saying that it was especially high art, or Important Television (the creators views on that are pretty clearly demonstrated by the content of the showrunner-within-the-show), but I’m saying that they knew what they wanted to say, and the proximity to yet another tragedy doesn’t make it less important or less relevant, but if anything more so.