DID YOU WATCH the first season of UnREAL? If you think the Lifetime Network is just the home of endless seasons of Project Runway, cheesy TV movies, and reality television about little people who prove they can be just as needlessly catty and vapid as those “real” housewives, you probably (understandably) didn’t.
So, sure, we don’t blame you if you were skeptical of a series on Lifetime about reality television. But with the show’s second season about to premiere this week, it seemed like a perfect time to inform you that UnREAL is one of the best shows on television. You don’t win the Peabody Award for just anything! So in case you never saw it, here are five of the many reasons you really ought to be catching up with it.
Shiri Applebee and Constance Zimmer Are a Perfect Pair
One of the best pairings on TV, the former stars of Roswell and Boston Legal, respectively, have the sort chemistry that the writers of the show are clearly having a ball with. Their relationship swings wildly from cheeky friendliness and even occasionally-feminist equality to pure spiteful antagonistic rivalry. Applebee, especially, displays previously-unseen skills and the success of the show is entirely dependent on their double-act. These two compelling characters are complicated and flawed and smart and vulnerable and vicious, which is exactly what we want from female relationships on screen. The shows plays off of these ideas and stereotypes of hard-working professional women, and it makes for enthralling viewing. Zimmer won a Critic’s Choice Award for her role, and brings new definition to the idea of the cutthroat boss.
It Skewers The Bachelor and Every Reality Show on TV
The show-within-a-show is Everlasting, a Bachelor-style program in which a man must find somebody he wants to marry by whittling down a pack of women who are alternately seeking fame and/or personal change. All too real, it’s easy to see how the many provocative methods of eliciting drama could be carried out on real programs. And not just dating shows, but any which involve competition, backstage confessionals, and long-festering resentment between contestants. It’s at once both shattering and kinda hilarious seeing the many ways that the makers of UnREAL poke fun at the concept of a dating show, including the ridiculous “ceremonies,” the highly-staged dates, and the drama they prod out of the most meager of moments. Co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro was even a former producer of The Bachelor, so she knows what she’s doing, even if swapping out a contestant’s bipolar medications or not telling a contestant that their father has died seems even too monstrous for the real reality contests.
Every Actor Gets a Chance to Shine
UnREAL would be a great job to get for one of the smaller roles because even they get moments of real humanity amid the horrific behind-the-scenes reality nonsense. Season One gave unknown actors like Breeda Wool, Kim Matula, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Deneé Denton, and many more supporting actors the chance to show what they’re made of. Unlike even great ensembles, the entire roster of characters on UnREAL were given something to make them unique and memorable. Hopefully, Season Two’s new batch of contestants and employees are given the same amount of space to become fully-developed characters.
It’s a Hard-Hitting Drama in the Form of a Soap Opera
We may mock them, but there is a reason soap operas remained so popular on television for so long. You don’t convince millions of people around the world to watch the same people every day for decades without hitting on something that secretly captivates us. UnReal plays into these soap opera tricks – the drama, the rivalry, the romance – while also being a complexly-written series that is directed with style and panache. You don’t find that very often.
The Sexy Dude Factor
Okay, we couldn’t leave without mentioning that the casting of its men is particularly on point. And not just because they’re uniformly handsome, but because someone like Freddie Stroma is such a perfect “bachelor” for the program’s show-within-a-show. With his plum accent, perfectly-combed, parted hair, and babyface-with-a-sexy-secret grin, Stroma’s Adam Cromwell was the perfect sexy foil for the antics of his scheming producers. And to not mention former One Life to Live star Josh Kelly would be a crime because, in his role of cameraman Jeremy Caner, he was the perfect rough-and-tumble everyman foil to Stroma. The two of them certainly caught our attention in a big way, although sadly only Stroma will return for the second season (in an as-of-yet unknown capacity). Season Two’s ‘bachelor’ is B.J. Britt, who you may know from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Being Mary Jane. Well done to whoever made that casting decision.