“It’s good TV!”
This is a line you’ll be hearing a lot while watching the first six episodes of UnREAL, that just landed on STAN. And you will be watching all six episodes, probably in one delectable binge session, because UnREAL is really good TV.
Following the lives of the producers, contestants and crew of Everlasting, a fictional match-making reality show, UnREAL centres around producer Rachel (Shiri Appleby from Roswell) and her delectably ruthless boss Quinn King (Constance Zimmer). After a very public breakdown — “This job is Satan’s Asshole!” she screamed down the camera — left her financially beholden to the production company, Quinn forces her “gifted” protege back to the set, and back in the game.
We’re introduced to Rachel in a limo filled with ball gown-clad female contestants. She’s lying on the floor of the car, hiding from the camera among their stilettos, while holding up a picture of the prize suitor Adam (Freddie Stroma): the British heir the successful Cromwell Hotel fortune. While the bubbly women sip bubbly around her, Rachel looks defeated and apathetic. Her unwashed t-shirt reads ‘This is what a feminist looks like’. She reeks of self-loathing.
UnREAL is clearly not a subtle show. It was never going to be — in the States it airs on Lifetime, a network renowned for its glossy dramas like Marc Cherry’s Devious Maids or reality hits like Dance Moms. But through its intrinsically histrionic approach, UnREAL succeeds in navigating the conflict that reality television manifests in producers, contestants and, you guessed it, us: the complicit, addicted, besotted and relentless viewers. (As I write this at 9am, my housemate is downstairs catching up on MasterChef as if it will offer him more sustenance than the breakfast he’s skipping.)
Although fictional, the drama that goes into creating Everlasting behind the scenes — drugging, emotional coercion, blackmail, manipulation — is detailed with such debased and bombastic precision that it’s totally believable. Not only does the casting of mentally ill contestants by mentally ill producers eerily echo Jon Ronson’s chapter about Jerry Springer in The Psychopath Test, but UnREAL’s very own creators bring some insider cred.
Co-creators Martin Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro understand Hollywood, drama, and reality TV. Shapiro is adamant that she hasn’t drawn directly from previous experience as a producer on The Bachelor — a job that apparently lead her to contemplate suicide — but UnREAL does cut very close to the bone (not just during those spa nights, either).
Read more at Junkee.