In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, Lifetime
In the UK: It’ll be on Lifetime or Living, you know it
It hopefully won’t have escaped the attention of regular readers of this ‘ere blog that I haven’t covered reality TV shows since its very early days, back when Big Brother was still a novelty. I just ain’t got the time… and I don’t watch it any more.
It has, however, escaped the attention of lots of PRs, who despite claiming to be ‘huge fans’ of TMINE, still want to know if I’ll cover reality show x, game show y or reality game show z.
Invariably, I tell them that I only cover ‘scripted comedy and drama’, but perhaps I should consider a different response. After all, look over the credits of even something like American’s Next Top Model and you’ll discover a host of writing credits; there’s also a genre known as ‘constructed reality’ that encompasses shows such as The Only Way is Essex in which although the responses of the participants are genuine – or as genuine as they can be on a TV show – the situations in which they’re involved are set up by the production teams.
Oftentimes, it can be hard to tell apart the true reality show from the constructed reality show and Lifetime’s new comedy-drama UnREAL hinges on just such a problem – the nature of truth and reality in supposed reality shows, as well as the symbiotic relationship between those performing for the cameras and the need of reality TV producers for them to perform in order that they can produce ‘interesting' television that fits comfortable, stereotypical conventions.
Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Life Unexpected) is Rachel, a freelance field producer for a very Bachelor-like reality show called Everlasting. After a breakdown on camera the previous season that ended up with her becoming indebted to the amoral and immoral producer of the show Constance Zimmer (Love Bites, House of Cards), she’s forced to return to the job she hates – manipulating potential and current contestants into doing what Zimmer needs them to do and fitting into their pre-determined roles, all while she pretends to be their friend.
That includes dealing with the supposedly gentlemanly but actually womanising English heir to a hotel chain (Harry Potter’s Freddie Stroma) who’s really using the show to rehabilitate his public profile; Breeda Wool (Betas), a shy Christian woman and virgin who’s intended to be the show’s ‘joke’; Ashley Scott (Birds of Prey, Jericho), the ‘desperate MILF' who’s going to be dumped by episode three; Arielle Kebbel (90210), the ‘bitch’ who’s the intended villain of the show; and Christie Lang (Arrow), the talented violinist and scholar who’s unfortunately too black to win.
Except Appleby is the kind of woman who goes around wearing a T-shirt saying ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ and faced with pumping out stereotypes that are demeaning to women and betraying her sisters, she decides to do all she can to rewrite the show’s narrative – all while trying to avoid being sent to prison if Zimmer finds out what she’s up to.