UnREAL, with three seasons on Lifetime and one season on Hulu, won a Peabody in 2016 for its enlightening portrayal of the behind-the-scenes world of reality television.
Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer star in this dark drama that takes viewers behind the scenes of Everlasting, a Bachelor-style dating show filled with twists, turns, and manipulation.
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The show was also nominated for three Emmys, including one for Constance Zimmer in acting and one for the show's writing.
Marti Noxon -- eventual Buffy the Vampire Slayer showrunner, Dietland showrunner, and Sharp Objects creator -- teamed up with a former producer of The Bachelor Sarah Gertrude Shapiro to create the iconic show.
Read on to discover what makes this show so iconic and unique in its four-season run!
Constance Zimmer (House of Cards, Entourage) plays Quinn King, a ruthless reality TV showrunner who knows she's good and isn't afraid to show it. Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Girls) plays Rachel Goldberg, Quinn's trusty, cunning sidekick who has a penchant for stirring up trouble and being amazing at her job -- manipulating people. It's easy to be scared of these characters because of Zimmer's and Appleby's acting chops -- or maybe we just want to be like them. From breakdowns to tender moments, these actors know how to do it all.
Quinn and Rachel are the ultimate dynamic duo. They trust and depend on each other, and their never-ending love may stem from something toxic at work, but deep down, they really do love and respect each other. Together, they're unstoppable and ready to take down the patriarchal television industry, one step at a time.
UnREAL takes place almost entirely on the set of the fictional reality datin series, Everlasting. The set involves a huge mansion and surrounding land, which includes the showrunners' office and the producers' headquarters where Quinn watches contestants on monitors. Ever detail of the mansion and the set is exquisitely done, from the grip truck where Rachel sleeps to the outdoor patio where the contestants roam.
While UnREAL is a dark drama, it's not without its share of comedic gags. Many of them come from Quinn's fast-talking quips with Graham, but many contestants are humorous in their own right. Certain characters, such as the young producer Madison, add much-needed comedic relief to the drama, breaking up the tension and rounding out the show.
Rachel starts the series wearing a shirt that says "This is what a feminist looks like" and ends the series wearing a "I'm still with her" shirt. Rachel comes full circle, but she never stops fighting for what she believes in. Quinn also has her own fair share of feminist authority, fighting against Chet's demands and the will of the network that caters to the male gaze. She may humiliate contestants for the sake of the show, but when it comes down to it, she'll do what's right.
UnREAL has crafted a careful, intimate storyline over its four seasons and 38 episodes. UnREAL starts during Everlasting's 14th season but seamlessly makes the viewer feel like they've watched the fictional series forever by crafting an in-depth narrative that introduces past characters and a thorough history. Quinn, Chet, and Rachel have all been integral to the development of Everlasting, and the effort shows.
TV cinematography shouldn't be doubted, especially for UnREAL. The show is known for its sweeping, lengthy shots of upwards of 15 and 20 seconds that navigate around the set seamlessly as the characters move -- and you might not even realize they occur because they're so effectively integrated. It really looks like you're behind the scenes of the TV show at all times, changing from night to day and adding in unique lighting and shot types.
UnREAL thrives off of surprise endings and never letting the viewer know what's coming next. Each episode puts the viewer on the edge of their seat, hinting and foreshadowing at just the right moments but never revealing too much. UnREAL uses the suspense and thrill of reality shows and puts them in a fictional format that takes aim at the ridiculousness of these reality shows -- it's utterly genius.
Rachel rocks an amazing tomboy chic look in Seasons 1-3 and graduates to a more traditionally sophisticated look in Season 4. Quinn is always outfitted in classic formal suits and dresses, but the show also indulges in more quirky costumes, leaning into the humor for various challenges and dates on Everlasting. Viewers can take a fashion cue or two from any of their favorite characters on UnREAL and they wouldn't go wrong.
UnREAL utilizes some haunting songs in each season to great effect. Artist alt-J is featured in heavy moments throughout the series and the series introduces some fascinating independent artists with unique sounds. The show also uses music well in montages that highlight the severity of the Everlasting's depravity, leaving the audience with lingering feelings before moving onto the next episode.
UnREAL also feature a variety of other producers and contestant characters that fill up the Everlasting world. From overshadowed gay producer Jay to youthful naive producer Madison, there's never a boring character. Each contestant also has a unique personality and feel, displaying UnREAL's uncanny ability to mimic the real world.
The power dynamic between Rachel and Quinn is a fascinating one -- Rachel may be Quinn's protégé, but Rachel has skills that Quinn doesn't, and Quinn respects her for it. They function more so on a certain kind of co-dependence to both their benefit and their harm. Other power dynamics range from amusing to frightening -- Rachel has free reign over nearly all the producers and crew members, while Quinn and Chet battle it out over their complicatd workplace romance and showrunning abilities.
UnREAL takes the absurdity of shows like The Bachelor and shines a light on how crazy they are by showing the behind-the-scenes madness. Everything is carefully orchestrated, and it's easy to be able to understand why things happen and how it mocks America for loving reality dating shows. The show is revealing and takes close aim at how shows like The Bachelor quickly spiral out of control, manipulating contestants and making the wild time we know and love.
Quinn is known for her witty retorts and quick jabs at the obnoxious host Graham, and she always has an incredible new insult up her sleeve. She's not just one of the most powerful bosses on television, carving out time to dole out amusing criticism and yelling at the nearest crew member -- she looks great while doing it.
Rachel and Quinn are both powerful and troubled characters, but UnREAL also leans into their more human sides. Both characters have their share of personal moments, crying or exposing their inner feelings while projecting other ones onto the show. UnREAL takes a close look at the persona one shows in real life while hiding others, and between these two complex women, it's fascinating.
UnREAL never fails to address contemporary issues. From police shootings, introducing a black suitor and a female suitress in tech, and discussing sexual assault, UnREAL introduces a relevant discussion to a lot of complicated issues that plague America today. They may not be the be-all-end-all, but they provide a unique lens and introduce something grounding to a show that lives off of outrageous moments.
While sometimes shocking, UnREAL takes risks to produce the best possible televsion while calling out reality television for its absurd hyperbole of life itself. From multiple character deaths and injuries to sexual activity abound, UnREAL caters to an adult audience and doesn't hide from the truth of reality television. The show isn't for the faint of heart, but it's worth it for even a tiny glimpse into a world we never see.