×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘UnREAL’

With:
Shiri Appleby, Constance Zimmer, Craig Bierko, Freddie Stroma, Josh Kelly, Siobhan Williams, Nathalie Kelley, Johanna Braddy, Breeda Wool, Ashley Scott, Arielle Kebbel

Despite being one of the best dramas Lifetime has developed in recent memory, “UnReal” faces an uncertain future. That’s because its premise — a behind-the-scenes look at a fictitious, very “The Bachelor”-like reality show — might be too sophisticated and pointed for the audience that buys into such fare, while offering scant appeal to those who don’t care. Commercial considerations notwithstanding, showrunner Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who made the original short film on which this show is based, have produced a savvy, acerbic look at how the reality-TV sausage gets made, with all its inherent manipulation, and collateral damage be damned.

Shiri Appleby stars as Rachel, a producer on the dating show “Everlasting,” returning from a leave of absence after a breakdown that, like everything else surrounding the program, was caught on tape. Rachel might be a voice of reason, but her own morality is fungible, especially when hard-driving executive producer Quinn (Constance Zimmer) offers “cash bonuses for nudity, 911 calls and fights,” rallying the troops by saying, “Get me some good TV.”

As the series makes clear, though, “good” has very little to do with “real,” which is why the producers can try to bait the contestants into useful sound bites and breakdowns that can be edited, without context, to tell the story they want. The behind-the-scenes drama also includes Quinn’s ongoing affair with the show’s coke-snorting, absentee creator (Craig Bierko), a character that — given the obvious real-world parallels to “The Bachelor” — looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

UnReal” also delves into the lives of the contestants, starting with the bachelor (Freddie Stroma), who isn’t as pliant as the producers would like. The women vying for his attention, meanwhile, range from cynical and scheming — seeing the promotional value in their exposure — to vulnerable and naive.

“It is not my fault that America’s racist,” the producer notes early on, regarding the likelihood of an African-American being the last woman standing. Later, two of the African-American women are counseled to play the villain — think “The Apprentice’s” Omarosa — if they want to hang around longer than usual.

In the early going, the series manages to tap into these threads and reality staples (the producers at one point are dispatched on a “bitch hunt”), with Rachel’s pangs of conscience bumping up against her drive to succeed and get her life back on track. There is, admittedly, a lingering danger that the show’s writers will push the fictitious drama too far, but through three episodes, anyway, they manage to dance up to that line without stumbling across it.

As noted, the problem is that those who watch reality TV — a staple, incidentally, of Lifetime’s lineup — probably won’t be all that receptive to a series that seeks to expose how corrupt the process is. And those who don’t watch can feel superior without reinforcement from a show like this.

Strictly as a well-produced drama, though, “UnReal” looks like the real deal. So in the parlance of the genre that it parodies, the series deserves to be allowed to continue on its journey for at least a while longer.

TV Review: 'UnREAL'

(Series; Lifetime, Mon. June 1, 10 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in Vancouver by Tiny Pyro, Bob Sertner Prods. and A+E Studios.

Crew: Executive producers, Marti Noxon, Sally DeSipio, Robert M. Sertner, Peter O’Fallon; co-executive producers, Stacy Rukeyser, David Solomon, Jordan Hawley, Elizabeth Benjamin; supervising producer, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro; producer, S. Lily Hui; director, O’Fallon; writers, Noxon, Shapiro; based on the short film “Sequin Raze” by Shapiro; camera, David Pellettier; production designer, Ricardo Spinace; editor, Scott Wallace; music, Fil Eisler; casting, Barbara Fiorentino, Katrina Wandel. 60 MIN.

Cast: Shiri Appleby, Constance Zimmer, Craig Bierko, Freddie Stroma, Josh Kelly, Siobhan Williams, Nathalie Kelley, Johanna Braddy, Breeda Wool, Ashley Scott, Arielle Kebbel

More TV

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Signs of Solidarity and Strain Emerge as Week 2 of WGA-Talent Agency Standoff Begins

    Hundreds of WGA members rallied solidly behind their union last week as the industry grappled with uncertainties spurred by the sudden break between writers and their talent agency representatives. But as the standoff heads into its second week, signs of strain among some WGA members are beginning to emerge. Shalom Auslander, author and creator of [...]

  • Jon Snow Arya Stark Game of

    'Game of Thrones' Final Season Vegas Odds Reveal Wild Theories

    With “Game of Thrones” hype at an all-time high, Las Vegas may be raking in as much money as the Iron Bank. HBO’s fantasy masterpiece has seized the gambling world’s attention nearly as much as the Super Bowl or Kentucky Derby. Fans spew countless theories on social media, such as which characters will be axed [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • Adam Lambert, of Queen, performs at

    Adam Lambert Back to 'Idol' to Mentor Finalists Through Queen's Catalog

    Adam Lambert famously launched his career on “American Idol” a decade ago performing a brilliant audition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wrapped that amazing eighth season performing with the band on the season finale, and years later earned his current spot as the front man touring as Queen + Adam Lambert. On April 28, Lambert comes full circle as he steps [...]

  • Lily Tomlin SAG Lifetime Acheivement Award

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's 'Laugh-In' 50th Anniversary Tribute Sets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Netflix sets the premiere date for its 50th anniversary special of “Laugh-In.” DATES “Laugh-In: The Stars Celebrate,” the 50th anniversary tribute to the original series by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, will premiere on Netflix on May 14. The special, which was taped at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, pays [...]

  • Texas Tech's Norense Odiase (32) shoots

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of April 8: NCAA Championship Game Dunks on Competition

    The final of the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament, in which Virginia triumphed over a spirited Texas Tech team, unsurprisingly finished way out in front in the Live+3 ratings for the week of April 8. Although the sports broadcast’s scripted competition made some gains, its 5.4 ratings still more than doubled that of “Grey’s Anatomy” in [...]

  • Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million

    Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million Total Viewers Across TV News

    Coverage of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice unsurprisingly caused a ratings bump across TV news yesterday. In terms of overall viewership, around 11 million people tuned in to see Attorney General William Barr’s news conference regarding the report’s release, and the news coverage surrounding it. According [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content