Is The Bachelor your guilty (or not-so-guilty) pleasure? If so, you must tune into Lifetime's latest scripted series, which is designed to pull down the curtain of the behind-the-scenes world of reality television and show the less-than-authentic ways the drama of those beloved suitor shows is brought to the small screen. Lifetime has renewed UnREAL for Season 2, and it's amazing news for anyone addicted to this juicy, dark drama. If you're not, set your DVR now — you won't want to miss any more than you already have.
UnREAL tells the story of Rachel, a producer on a fictional Bachelor-esque dating show titled Everlasting. Rachel considers herself a feminist and a decent human being, but, sadly, she's also damn good at her job. That's unfortunate for Rachel because doing her job involves pitting the women in the Everlasting house against one another and manipulating the contestants into producing the best sound bites — all for cash bonuses. Rachel wrestles with her own moral code while also trying to win back the trust of her boss, who reluctantly allows her back on the show after Rachel's mental breakdown during the show's last finale.
The show is midway through its first season, and as the ratings climb, so does the drama. Here's why you need to be tuning into UnREAL, because you won't want to have to catch up to this crazy train for too long.
It's A Dark Mirror To What We Like To Watch
The so-called "crazy" characters on Everlasting aren't merely table-flipping caricatures: instead they're troubled people who have their emotions manipulated by producers for ratings. In the pilot episode, would-be villain Vanessa is taunted in her exit video by Rachel, who brings up Vanessa's history in foster homes in order to get a highlight reel-worthy reaction. On UnREAL, reality television is an illusion and its contestants are puppets.
It Knows What It's Satirizing
Everlasting is a near-perfect satire of iconic matchmaking show The Bachelor, but it does more than just replicate it: it makes us analyze what we watch. As the contestants come in, they're assigned labels: the villain, the "dried up single mom," the virgin, etc. The labels are exactly the kind of thing that audiences think they're giving contestants themselves when they watch the show, but in reality, we're fed how to think about these contestants from day one. UnREAL may be a highly dramatized version of what really goes on behind the scenes of a reality show, but it gets at least that part of reality TV so right.
The Characters Are Complicated
We may root for Rachel, but she's not exactly our heroine. She considers her reasons for working in reality TV to be pure, but ultimately she relishes having control over other people. It's not just the producers who get the complex character development: each one of the contestants is more than they present to the reality TV cameras. Their backstories are revealed slowly (sometimes with the help of the on-call psychologist's extensive files on their lives before the show) and with each bit of information their well put-on illusion is slowly chipped away.
It's Not Afraid To Go There
UnREAL could be Lifetime's edgiest program to date — there's nothing campy about this series, and it's committed to a level of darkness that could easily put it at home on a cable channel like FX. In one episode, a cast member's eating disorder is enabled for ratings, and in another a contestant's domestic abuse case is used to spur her to behave erratically — it's the darker stuff that humanizes the Everlasting contestants while also setting up some pretty disturbing realities. UnREAL isn't merely a parody of reality TV shows — it shows us how human beings work. And sometimes, things get a little too real.
Images: Lifetime (screenshot) (3)