This year at SXSW, a friend of mine urged me to attend the screening for a new Lifetime show. I never need to be convinced to watch anything on Lifetime, because yes, but when I learned that Marti Noxon was the co-creator, and that Freddie Stroma was one of the stars, I was SO THERE.
It’s fair to say that I was ready to be entertained, but I wasn’t expecting UnREAL to be good. And I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be GREAT.
But it is, y’all. It is so, so, SO great. I’m completely hooked, which means it’s all I want to talk about, which means I’m writing this post in the hopes of converting more of you into people who will convo with me about it.
So if you’re already watching this show, WE NEED TO TALK. And if you’re not already watching it, here’s why you need to tune in.
1. Reality TV Without The Guilt
At the center of UnREAL is Everlasting, a fake, Bachelor type reality show, in which women compete for the affections of Adam Cromwell (Freddie Stroma), a rich dude with a vague royal connection. Not only do we have the pleasure of watching the on-screen melodrama, we get to experience the behind-the-scenes melodrama of producers like Rachel (Shiri Appleby) manipulating the contestants and showrunner Quinn (Constance Zimmer) gunning for ratings. It’s an insanely juicy dose of crazy, and none of it comes with any guilt, because these are fictional characters. Sure, it’s based on real life, since UnREAL co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro used to work on The Bachelor, but when one of the girls develops an eating disorder, and another one has a psychotic break on national television, you don’t feel like you’re condoning the decay of humanity by virtue of watching.
Plus, it’s incredibly fascinating to witness the psychology behind reality television and the brutal power of editing.
2. Complex Feminism
Quinn and Rachel, the two main female leads, are nuanced as all get out. As the showrunner, Quinn is immensely powerful, but she is constantly victimized by Everlasting‘s creator, Chet, a total jerkoff who has somehow seduced her. She’s a raging bitch, but she’s a smart businesswoman, and UnREAL makes you admire the shizz out of her while also recognizing the double standard that lands her in the bitch column. Side note: she gets the best lines.
While Quinn is a funny, vulgar, stone cold fox who is comfortable in her own skin, Rachel is an unstable hot mess of issues. And yet she carries an almost manic confidence when it comes to her talent for manipulation–she’s like the Bachelor Whisperer. She’s still learning how to respect herself, and that journey of self-discovery makes for some compellingly tortured TV that never gets annoying thanks to the talents of Shiri Appleby. There’s something about that girl that instantly wins my affection and maintains it, even as she plays a character who does horrible things. And Rachel does horrible things on this show, y’all. Watching her, you can’t help but hear the voice of the Sassy Gay Friend shrieking, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES.” And yet, even as you’re in the midst of headdesking, you’re empathizing with Rachel, and more importantly, you’re rooting for her to emerge from those murky moral depths. (Although, those depths? They are hella interesting.)
3. Smokin’ Hot Dudes
UnREAL understands a universal truth about good television–a good script is worthless if you don’t have the man candy to read it. Freddie Stroma, as already mentioned, plays Adam with a deliciously roguish glint in his eye, while Josh Kelly is Jeremy, a crew member whose past affair with Rachel still smolders with the fire of a thousand suns. When it comes to romantic tension, there is an embarrassment of riches on this show, and in the words of Glenn Frey, the heat is ON.
To sum up, this show is intelligent, daring, and sexy, and above all, it’s entertaining as cuss. I challenge you to watch the pilot and not spend the rest of your night mainlining episodes, because WELCOME TO ADDICTION, MY FRIEND.
And to my fellow UnREAL swimfans, join me in the comments so we can talk about ALL OF THE THINGS.