'UnREAL' Gives A Complex Look At The Gender Dynamics Of Reality TV With Powerful, Ruthless Female Characters
I don't know if Lifetime accepted a rose that was hiding some sharp thorns, but the network's new scripted drama UnREAL is not afraid to call out reality dating series for their portrayals of women. UnREAL follows the entire production of Everlasting , a dating reality show much like The Bachelor, but unlike the ABC series, viewers of UnREAL will see what happens behind the scenes of the fictional dating show. And it isn't pretty.
Almost immediately into the pilot episode of UnREAL, the ugliness of the production team becomes apparent. Quinn, played by Constance Zimmer, is the relentless, extremely-driven, takes crap from no one producer of the Everlasting series. She will do anything for good ratings. By anything, I mean manipulate the women competing on the show to reach their absolute lowest points. Another producer on the series, Rachel, played by Shiri Appleby, is great at getting the most dramatic moments from contestants, but unlike Quinn, she struggles internally with using the women to get better ratings.
In one scene, Rachel convinces a contestant to stay on the series when she has doubts about being there to serve as the "older woman." Through an earbud, Rachel is fed the contestants personal information (she was in an abusive relationship in the past and has a child) and uses that to convince her to stay on the show. In another scene, Rachel completely breaks down "the villain" — who was in foster care growing up, and has spent time in psych wards — into feeling unloved and unwanted. The contestant emotionally loses it, which makes for great TV, aka Rachel did her job.
The thing about the new series, which is vastly different from it's fictional show-within-the-show Everlasting, is that UnREAL isn't making women look bad. It's the producers of Everlasting that are making the fictional women of the fake show look bad. UnREAL, in fact, is almost doing the opposite. Rachel is a feminist — she even has a T-shirt on in the pilot that reads "This is what a feminist looks like." — and Quinn is completely calling the shots on Everlasting. Both of these women are largely responsible for this reality show, which puts them in a powerful position.
UnREAL essentially shows what may go on behind the scenes to make women appear the way they do on reality television, including being slapped with the unfair label of "crazy." And it does that while promoting women being in charge — complex, intense women. Everlasting is a show that we should hate (and, trust me, it's easy to), but it should also make us think about what those unseen people behind the camera are doing to get the responses we see from the women on screen. Are real-life reality series facing a similar production story? Because if so, I have absout 82 contestants to apologize to for judging them.
Images: James Dittiger/Lifetime (2)