UnReal: Relapse

Dealing with the aftermath of a mental breakdown, such as paying rent, is never easy. Rachel manoeuvres herself into a pickle when her job as a producer on Everlasting (The Bachelor 2.0) forces her to live (and look) like a homeless person.

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In the Back of an Equipment Van
Shooting a reality series around the clock means there’s hardly any time left for the personal lives of the crew, especially producers. Rachel spends her days on set, her nights in the back of an equipment van. At least she puts on fresh underwear each day. That doesn’t mean she isn’t desperately in need of a shower. It’s a bit unclear why she can’t just use one in the mansion of the contestants – there’s no place where the crew doesn’t seem to constantly walk in and out anyway.

In the Bathroom of the Bachelor
When she goes to pick up Bachelor boy Adam, and he tells her to wait a minute – to demonstratively take a shower right in front her – she makes lemonade out of lemons; jumps right in with him. He’d better keep his back to her, though, and he does. He knows better than to try anything. She might look homelessy, Rachel’s not to be messed with. That’s really the power of Shiri Appleby, who’s just as much a fragile beauty as a tough kitten.

The Villain
Quinn (Constance Zimmer) is busy figuring out how to replace the ‘villain’ of the show, since Adam sent their first choice home last week. There’s a substantial financial bonus for the one who edits together the best villainous candidate. Everything’s permitted. Nothing’s sacred. Jay (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Shia (Aline Elasmar) present their suggestions, but no one’s a better manipulator than Rachel. She really needs the money, now her ex-roommate gives her an ultimatum to pay her the rent she owes her. No compliance means her laptop – including very personal material – will find a new home on Ebay.

Breach of Contract
Anna (Johanna Braddy), a possible future Mrs. Bachelor, gets some bad news. Her father’s in the hospital. Rachel has to keep quiet about it, but she goes against reality policy and tells her anyway. She tells Anna she can’t leave yet, though – that’d mean a breach of contract. Anna feels trapped – which she is – and runs. Rachel brings her back, but not without a scene; Anna loses it.
Later, Rachel uses this footage to put together a sort of Villain Showreel. She wins the prize. But it’s too late. Her ex-roommate lost her patience. Every cell phone in the room starts bleeping. No doubt the very uncompromising video of her with cameraman Jeremy (Josh Kelly) is suddenly trending topic.

Fiction
The second episode is just as well crafted as the first. Fast, snarky, walking the line between integrity and character assassination. It makes you wonder how much of it is standard procedure in the world of reality television, especially because UnReal’s co-created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who’s had a first hand look of that world. I guess the only way to shine a light on the common practices is to translate them into fiction.

Lifetime’s Secret Weapon Comes Out Swinging

It’s called UnReal, a scripted look behind the scenes of an even tighter scripted reality competition program very similar to The Bachelor. It’s on Lifetime and it’s one of the must see series this summer. Imagine that.

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Queen Bee
UnReal doesn’t waste any time. From the get-go, we’re thrown into the middle of a recording of a reality show. It’s hectic, chaotic. There’s no time for exposition, but one thing’s undeniable: Constance Zimmer (House of Cards, Boston Legal, Entourage) is the woman in charge; the queen bee, directing her worker bees with an iron fist. Zimmer is great. Zimmer is always great, and this role in particular allows her to go full out. It doesn’t matter whether or not her colleagues like her, she’s there to get things done. Zimmer’s fast, funny, brutal, sensitive, decisive; a character you love to adore.

The Odd One Out
To get things done, Zimmer brings in Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Girls, Chicago Fire). Appleby’s rehired to do Zimmer’s (psychological) dirty work. Her core business is to manipulate the contestants, but although she’s the best at it – she has a way of getting the much needed oneliners -, something’s wrong. She’d left the show after a mental breakdown, but has agreed to come back. Not because of the work, that’s for sure. Every time an instruction comes through her ear piece, something inside of her dies; you just see it in her eyes. She still goes through with it, though. She has to. If she quit, she’d get jail time – her breakdown involved stealing a car, among other things.

Warm Shower
UnReal is about a TV show and everything that happens behind the scenes, so to compare it to The Newsroom is easy. It couldn’t be more different, though. The Newsroom was hectic, too, but UnReal allows you to watch it without getting extremely anxious. Even though it’s fast, quick, the viewer’s welcome. The Newsroom took place in a sterile environment, with sterile people and as many syllables per second as possible. UnReal is a warm shower by comparison. However, it’s giving us a pretty disturbing look at the way reality series are being produced/dramatized. Where Will McAvoy fought for the truth and nothing but the truth, Quinn’s (Zimmer) only concern is scandal.

The Creators
Everyone on the show is great, even the very believable empty headed (but in fact not so empty headed) Bachelor contestants. The casting is superb. On Lifetime? Yes, on Lifetime. But think about it. Where else could this series have found a home? It’s not about doctors, lawyers, cops, spies or superheroes. So if you were planning, let’s say, a behind the scenes drama series about such ‘light entertainment’ as The Bachelor, and you happened to be Marti Noxon (who served as a producer on Mad Men, Prison Break, Point Pleasant, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), where’d you go?
UnReal’s co-created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who actually served as a field-, segment- and associate producer on, wait for it, indeed: The Bachelor. Their professional partnership has accumulated into Lifetime’s secret weapon everybody’d better watch out for on Monday nights.