“UnReal” returns this Monday, but the third season of the Lifetime drama wrapped shooting in mid-2017 — before the #MeToo movement began. And the storylines for the season were conceived in the fall of 2016 — before the presidential election.
So, needless to say, things were much different.
Season 3 of “UnReal,” Lifetime’s scripted satire of reality dating shows like “The Bachelor” franchise, will feature the show’s first female “suitress,” after two seasons of male suitors. The central suitress, Serena (played by Caitlin Fitzgerald), is a powerful tech entrepreneur who has skyrocketed in her career, but is still looking for love.
The “UnReal” writing team always planned to have a powerful career woman as the season’s main character, but the 2016 presidential election brought on some surprising concerns — if Hillary Clinton won, would the concept of a powerful woman be provocative enough, or would it seem too commonplace?
“We started writing the show, we conceived of the idea of the feminist suitress, back before Trump was even president,” said “UnReal” showrunner Stacy Rukeyser during a Thursday evening panel at the Athena Film Festival, held at Barnard College in New York City. “It was at the time when everyone in Hollywood at least thought Hillary Clinton was going to be the next President of the United States, and so, there was a question and a concern, really, if these issues of gender politics, in terms of the struggle of smart, strong career women, if that was really going to still be an issue if Hillary Clinton was going to be president — which is such a lovely, optimistic view of how the world would have changed.”
Then, when Donald Trump was elected, the writers say the concept of a powerful woman as their main character became all the more layered.
“I think it became very clear on the campaign trail, just from the amount of vitriol that she [Clinton] received, how a smart strong woman is the scariest thing in the world to a great portion of this country,” Rukeyser said. “And so, it’s really rich material to explore and to look at Rachel [Shiri Appleby] and Quinn [Constance Zimmer], in terms of smart, strong women and their struggles.”
Rukeyser continued: “It was a story that was personal for me … I really related to this plight of women that we were hearing a lot about — you’re climbing up the ladder at work, and it seems like the higher you go, sometimes it’s harder to find a man.”
Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, the co-creator of “UnReal,” teased that the upcoming season will take a look at gender equality in the workplace. The first episode includes a scene in which Quinn has to sit silently in a pitch meeting, while her male co-worker, Chet (Craig Bierko), presents her idea. Gertrude Shapiro, a former producer on ABC’s “The Bachelor,” says that situation is far too familiar in real life for women working in the entertainment industry.
“Those of us who have been in the industry for a while have almost all had that experience of having to have either a male ally or male advocate or somebody stand up for us, or somebody just take our work and sell it because we wouldn’t be able to sell it ourselves,” Gertrude Shapiro said, to which Rukeyser chimed in, “It’s definitely cathartic to write it.”
While Season 3 will shine a light on many real issues women are facing in the workplace, star Appleby said having a strong-willed female suitress brings an even larger sense of girl power to the new episodes.
“It was pretty great to have three strong female leads on one television show,” Appleby quipped.