The mesmerizing meltdowns of ‘UnReal’
Easily addicting and thought-provoking, the drama series “UnReal” steadily illustrates the different levels of deception and manipulation involved in the creation of a “Bachelor”-esque reality competition.
From controversy-sniffing producers to desperate contestants and even the sneaky “suitor” himself, each follows his own game plan, on- and off-camera.
A timely examination of the goings-on in supposedly “unscripted” TV programs, “UnReal” mines the scandalous and potentially explosive relationships of characters making and appearing in the show “Everlasting,” where a rich bachelor ultimately picks a mate from a bunch of giddy hopefuls.
The show is cocreated by Marti Noxon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (“The Bachelor”), offering witty dissections of celebrity culture and demeaning game shows.
The “prince” is a Brit tycoon’s son, Adam Cromwell (Freddie Stroma), who hopes that his time on the show will repair his tarnished reputation. He has an assortment of encounters with the smitten women at the mansion set, where they are manipulated by the often-conflicted producer Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby).
Rachel follows the orders of executive producer Quinn King (Constance Zimmer), a thoroughly demanding puppet master of sorts, who unceasingly crosses the line for ratings.
The fictional cast and crew members all have their interconnected drama. This near-voyeuristic exploration illustrates the tremendous improvisation and sheer heartlessness that supposedly combine to make “good TV.”
The final, ready-to-air product tells truths—but only those that the showrunners allow, or manufacture entirely.
Rachel, the most complex character of the bunch, is a sweet-talking, almost-unparalleled manipulator who feels little to no remorse about making some of the contestants look bad. She is able to exploit weaknesses, and whip up the most shocking spins to make the latest season the most talked-about yet.
She is showing signs of improvement, however, as she gets close to Adam and, once again, to her cameraman/ex-lover Jeremy Caner (Josh Kelly).
Appleby, formerly of “Roswell,” shed her girl-next-door image prior to this with a more mature role in “Girls.” In “UnReal,” she is often unkempt and unglamorous, but she does figure in some of the show’s sexiest situations.
Almost as bedazzling is Zimmer, whose loud, formidable ringmaster character gets to berate and diminish underlings and even some of the contenders, often with little effort. Quinn has the best, most quotable lines, definitely.
“UnReal” also fascinates with its steady onslaught of mesmerizing meltdowns—it’s full of attractive but petty and catty characters. One just gets drawn to them, their glaring, trainwreck-ish flaws, and terrifyingly competitive, sometimes thoughtless, stunts.
(“UnReal” airs Thursdays, 9 p.m., on Lifetime.)
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