“UnREAL,” the series determined to wring the romance out of reality dating shows, may spoil the hedonistic pleasure one gets from watching “The Bachelorette.” It’s worth the risk.
Expectations were low when the show premiered last summer, in large part because it had landed on Lifetime, whose edgiest effort to date was selling Jennifer Love Hewitt as a happy hooker in “The Client List.” But the creators have a wonderfully wicked agenda.
Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, a former producer on ABC’s “The Bachelor,” clearly had an ax to grind, and she sharpened the blade by teaming up with Marti Noxon, best known for giving the scripts on “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” an extra kick.
Buffy Summers was a pussycat compared with the female warriors behind “Everlasting,” the fictional TV series that sets the stage for “UnREAL’s” behind-the-scenes fireworks.
On the surface, head wrangler Rachel (Shiri Appleby) appears to be the kind of gal pal who would hold your hair back while you’re retching after a night of heavy drinking. Maybe — but watch your wallet. Any guilt she may feel over instigating cat fights, giving false hopes to wannabe wives and — gasp! — playing a role in one contestant’s suicide are easily washed away with a few vodka shots.
Yes, I’m a bit of a manipulator, she says to someone she’s trying to manipulate, “but I’m the only one doing it for the right reasons.”
Even more soulless is her mentor, Quinn (Constance Zimmer), who keeps breaking promises to give her protégée more control, if only because it would mean fewer opportunities to bark out euphemisms for private parts from the control room and practically drool in anticipation of how viewers will react to contestants’ sob stories.
In Season 2, which premieres Monday, the two are busy patting each other on the back for casting reality TV’s first black bachelor, a milestone that has more to do with ratings than a social statement.
“He’s not black,” says Quinn, attempting to sell the image of her draft pick, a pro quarterback with a public image problem. “He’s football black.”
A short while later, she’s insisting that her staff wrap a scarf about the head of a Pakistani-American bachelorette, openly hoping to stoke viewers’ fears that a terrorist is on board.
The lack of racial representation on television and ever increasing paranoia over Muslim Americans are ripe topics for drama, as are date rape, eating disorders, pop psychiatry, alcoholism and sexual discrimination, but could Noxon and Shapiro give us a moment to stop and smell the roses? By jamming so many hot-button issues into each frantically paced episode, the show sometimes seems desperate to avoid being labeled as basic-cable lite.
The show, already one of TV’s best, would be even better if it focused squarely on the love-hate relationship between Rachel and Quinn. Their complicated, sexually charged dance is the richest study of female “frenemies” since Glenn Close and Rose Byrne were sizing each other up in “Damages.”
Murder or marriage may be right around the corner. The two would probably be open to either ratings-bait scenario, as long as it was captured on film for the next season of “Everlasting.”
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