TV Review: ‘UnREAL’ – Essential Viewing With Undeniable Pizazz


150307-unrealPreston Barta // Features Editor

Creators: Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro
Cast: Shiri Appleby, Constance Zimmer, Freddie Stroma, Johanna Braddy, Genevieve Buechner, Brennan Elliott, Bonita Friedericy, Nathalie Kelley, Josh Kelly and Ashley Scott

Perhaps you’re one of the many who are guilty of watching shows like THE BACHELOR and BACHELORETTE. And, perhaps you know there is little truth within them. Cat fights and casual sex are some of the many ingredients that make up the juicy and artificial flavor of reality television. This is where UnREAL comes in– Lifetime’s new series that serves up a cynical but “real” glimpse inside this very world.

Inspired by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro’s award-winning independent short titled SEQUIN RAZE, UnREAL takes audiences behind the scenes of a fictional dating-competition show called EVERLASTING, where producers are not shy when it comes to manipulating contestants and lying to get the vital dramatic and outrageous footage they need.

What Shaprio and co-creator/writer Marti Noxon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) give audiences is a humorous yet riveting look at what happens in unscripted television, where being a contestant can be brutal and producing it is a whole other reality.

I know what you may be thinking– Lifetime, right? Wherever your expectations may lie, UnREAL is a darker effort than Lifetime’s typical fare, especially tonight’s series opener. Whew! It has more flash and pizazz than you might think, nearly tiptoeing into HBO territory.

Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer star as Rachel and Quinn in UnREAL. Photo courtesy of Lifetime Television.

Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer star as Rachel and Quinn in UnREAL. Photo courtesy of Lifetime Television.

The pilot takes off on the perfect tart note, where Quinn (a terrific Constance Zimmer), an executive producer of EVERLASTING, yells at producers for picking a black woman as the first one to meet the show’s bachelor star (Freddie Stroma). If you’ve seen THE BACHELOR and/or BACHELORETTE, you may have noticed that African-American contests rarely advance far into the show. “It’s not my fault America is racist,” Quinn yells. This is one of the many truths UnREAL picks at.

Quinn sticks to what works and what sells, no matter the cost and who she may hurt in the path to success. Zimmer (ENTOURAGE) brings great energy to the role, causing viewers to ponder how much further Quinn will push people to their limits.

Shiri Appleby (GIRLS) proficiently executes her role as a producer whose job is to manipulate the contestants for the sake of “good television.” Her character, Rachel, is a women’s studies major, so she knows what’s she doing– but you can see the toll it is taking on her. She’s great at her job and she hates that she is. There’s so much depth to her, as you will see in the first episode.

After watching the show, you may question how “real” UnREAL is? So many crazy things happen in its hour-long block, yet every bit of it seems authentic.

UnREAL is lifted by its legitimacy, sharp and smart writing, and engaging characters and performances. If the rest of the season mirrors tonight’s pilot, we’re in for another damn good piece of entertainment.

UnREAL premieres tonight on Lifetime at 10pm/9c.

Our interview with Constance Zimmer, Shiri Appleby, Freddie Stroma, and co-creators Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Noxon:

0:35 – The art of a good interview
1:40 – Its premise and signing on
2:15 – Why Lifetime was the right home for UnREAL
5:04 – How being a part of the show has changed their perspective of the industry
8:23 – How Shapiro and Noxon’s relationship formed
9:34 – Favorite guilty pleasure TV shows
13:52 – If they could teach a college course

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.