TV Review: “UnREAL” Is Unbelievably Real

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Review by James McDonald

A behind-the-scenes look at the chaos surrounding the production of a dating competition program.

We are all familiar with reality TV shows like “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” even if you haven’t watched them, chances are you know what the show encompasses; good-looking, single guy or beautiful, single girl start out with a pool of romantic interests (typically 25) from whom the bachelor/bachelorette is expected to select a spouse. I don’t know how many times I’ve glanced at the cover of a magazine with a photo of the latest bachelor/bachelorette and their new life partner only to hear, some months later, that they separated. What do you expect? It’s television. It happens with actors and actresses all the time, they shoot a movie together and fall in love but once the cameras stop rolling, they drift apart and break up, having fallen for each other under false pretenses.

“UnREAL” takes place behind-the-scenes of a fictional reality TV show called “Everlasting” and pretty much steals the exact same plotline of “The Bachelor,” a large group of beautiful women from around the world, are flown to a romantic location where they meet the single male star of the show. On the first night, he mingles with all of them and by first light, he must choose the women he wants to stay while the remainder are eliminated and sent home. That’s what the fictional show is about but “UnREAL” tells the story of what goes on backstage, between “Action!” and “Cut!” After 30 years of producing and directing independent films, believe me, a lot of what you see here is what actually happens on the sets of movies and TV shows around the globe, anything to get the best shot.

As the show begins, Rachel (Shiri Appleby), a young producer on the hit reality TV show “Everlasting,” is returning for the new season after a physical and mental breakdown during the previous season’s finale, which brought in record numbers. The crew is shocked and dismayed to see her make her way back onto the set but the show’s producer and director Quinn (Constance Zimmer), knows just how good she really is at manipulating the guests on the show so that they will give the appropriate responses when needed. Quinn has been in the business for a long time and has worked her way up the ladder and won’t take crap from anybody, regardless of their status or distinction within the industry. The only person she truly seems to respect is Rachel and that’s because of her ability to do her job well which in turn, makes her look good.

Naturally, there is more drama behind the scenes of a TV show than in front of the camera and that is why I absolutely love this series. There needs to be more shows of this caliber on TV and I give Lifetime kudos for producing it. In the end, as far as reality TV goes, it’s what winds up on the screen that truly matters but sometimes, in order to achieve that desired objective, there has to be an exorbitant amount of manipulation, betrayal and deceit administered behind the scenes in order for it to truly work. As each of the beautiful women in front of the camera, all looking flawless, contend for the attention and consideration of the handsome and intelligent suitor Adam (Freddie Stroma), you can’t help but shake your head in disbelief as each girl, after thorough background checks, is manipulated by Quinn by bringing up their past when they least expect it, just to add dramatic weight.

It’s been a long time since I watched a pilot that immediately grabbed me and wouldn’t let go and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the remainder of the series. Both Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer shine in their respective roles and if you have an aversion towards profanity, then you might want to cover your ears periodically because while there is the occasional expletive, it shouldn’t take away from the overall enjoyment, instead, it gives you a little insight as to what actually happens behind the magic that is TV. Very Highly Recommended.

“UnREAL” premieres tonight at 10/9c on Lifetime

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James McDonald
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