We all know that reality shows, particularly ones that focus on the world of love and romance, aren't exactly "real." An edit here, a scripted line there, a carefully planned "twist" for good measure, and voilá: "reality" TV. It's all insanely watchable, but a Ken Burns documentary it is not. Still, knowing that your favorite guilty pleasure involves smoke and mirrors, and seeing just how the sausage gets made, are two different things. That's what makes Lifetime's new scripted series, "UnREAL," so intriguing. The show (which borrows liberally from "The Bachelor") is a fictional take on how reality shows are produced. How very meta. So, just how many dating show clichés does "UnREAL" get exactly right?
Considering that the show is helmed by showrunner Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who worked as an associate producer and field producer at "The Bachelor" for several years, we're expecting "UnREAL" to nail its faux reality show-within-a-show (which is dubbed "Everlasting"). Over the course of the season, we'll follow along with the prospective brides, the bachelor and the crew that makes the whole operation run smoothly—and provides a shot of drama when the contestants aren't acting "crazy" enough.
Just from the first episode, we can already see that "UnREAL" manages to capture just what makes reality TV so engrossing, but also why it makes some viewers queasy.
Here are all the reality show clichés "UnREAL" gets right:
Every contestant fills an archetype
The chief producer of "Everlasting," Quinn (Constance Zimmer), specifically casts girls who fill certain expected boxes. There's the "wife material" girl, the "crazy" one, the "bitch," the "old and desperate" one, etc. Once a woman's chief defining characteristic is identified, her edit on the show is designed to enhance it. And the contestants vying for love know that. Some play into it and some try to be authentic—with varying levels of success.
The show is completely over the top
The women show up to meet their man in individual horse-drawn carriages. 'Nuff said.
"Everlasting" is a worldwide television phenomenon
Just like "The Bachelor" and other reality romance shows, the world's appetite for "Everlasting" is insatiable. The show is a huge hit when "UnREAL" begins, and that pressure to stay on top is one of the reasons Quinn and her crew keeps pushing for bigger, louder, more dramatic stories and characters.
Here's the trailer for "UnREAL"
"UnREAL" airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.