Everything You Need To Remember Before Tonight's 'UnREAL' Season 2 Premiere
By Devon McReynolds and Julia Wick
UnREAL, which returns tonight for its Season Two premiere, is more than just necessary supplemental viewing for fans of The Bachelor— it's arguably the best show currently on TV. Lifetime's razor-sharp dramedy may be set behind the scenes of Everlasting, a Bachelor-like reality show, but please don't write it off just because you tend to eschew reality television. UnREAL is acid satire—compelling, brilliantly acted and frequently hilarious. It's also responsible for, almost singlehandedly, repositioning Lifetime as a contender for serious fare.
The "show-within-a-show" conceit lifts the reality television veil to focus the drama on 's puppet masters. While one strapping suitor struggles to select his bride from an army of desperate wannabe housewives, we see what the producers are doing to manipulate the cast and the outcome of the show, and the sketchy, often downright evil ways they go about doing this.
The show's creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro is certainly no stranger to the morally murky terrain, having worked as a producer on The Bachelor, but she mines it for all it's worth, teasing out every nuance and beautifully-observed terror. Given her past, it's also reasonable to assume that UnREAL provides some juicy insights as to how these shows actually work.
The show's two female protagonists—Constance Zimmer as Quinn, the show's executive producer, and Shiri Appleby as Rachel, her wayward feminist protege—are both dazzlingly flawed, a rarity for women on TV. The first season was, as The New York Times described it, "both a workplace power drama and a laser-focused work of media criticism." The show is perhaps best summarized by Shapiro, who called it "a female Breaking Bad set on a reality TV show."
The season began on the set of a franchise that had already raked in billions of dollars, with 20 beautiful contestants vying for the love of an upper-crust Brit named Adam Cromwell.
Our antiheroine Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby), a therapist's daughter who struggles to reconcile her feminist beliefs with the job she can't seem to escape, had reluctantly returned to the reality television fray after having had an Everlasting-induced mental breakdown.Rachel's boss and mentor, the sexy, steely showrunner Quinn King (Constance Zimmer), runs the ship and battles for power with executive producer Chet Wilton (Craig Bierko), her lover/sparring partner/Everlasting co-creator. Quinn hands out cash bonuses for nudity, catfights and 911 calls and responds with a "thank you" when told that she could make "a perfectly happy person jump off a bridge."
As is at the very core of UnREAL, and the world of reality TV production it exposes, meddling in others' affairs is not just par for the course, but necessary to producing drama for television. Over the course of the season, sparks fly between Rachel and Adam, Everlasting's suitor, while she also briefly reconciles with her ex-boyfriend Jeremy, who also works on set. Oh, what tangled webs we weave!
We have neither the time or the space to recap every single plot twist from the season, but here's a refresher of where we left off after the season one finale last August:
After the hawk-eyed Quinn discovered bedroom night-vision footage of Rachel and Adam having sex, she uses that information to blackmail Rachel—reluctant to plunge even deeper into the murky waters of reality TV— into joining her new production company, or she'll release the footage.
Quinn, quite the multi-tasker, also convinces Adam to go through with the on-camera wedding to the "winning" contestant Anna and dump Rachel...right after convincing Rachel to run away with him, away from the show. But Rachel is stood up: Quinn had pulled a last-minute reveal, telling Adam everything about Rachel's past, and successfully scaring him away. Bad idea, Adam!
To add insult to injury, there's Jeremy—poor, hot Jeremy. Just one episode prior, he and Rachel had reconciled; planning on getting out of the biz and starting a new, more wholesome life together. But having discovered that Rachel has slept with Adam and pulled a variety of sneaky stunts, he re-dumps her in front of the whole crew.
Rachel, borderline-sociopathic, skilled producer that she is, channels her humiliation (she'd never say it was heartbreak), into plotting an oozing finale that no one saw coming—you can just hear the hyperbolic promo now: "MOST DRAMATIC FINALE. EVER." For Rachel, ratings = revenge, and satisfaction, and it's clear from her energy that she's relishing every minute of it.
The sabotage goes off without a hitch: Everlasting contestant Anna winds up telling Adam off on live television, which is not only humiliating for the suitor, but it also means Quinn successfully threw sleazy ol' Chet under the bus; he's pretty much dead meat to the network.
Season one ends with Quinn and Rachel laying dazed on lounge chairs, sipping flat leftover champagne, plotting what's next.