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A Field Guide: Behind the Curtain of Romance Reality in Unreal

Alex Casey tells you all you need to know about UnREAL, the Lightbox-exclusive drama set behind the scenes of a dating show that will appeal to Bachelor fans and reality naysayers alike. 

What’s the story?

UnREAL is a comedy-drama set behind the scenes of a Bachelor-style dating show called Everlasting. It’s an easily recognisable setting, from the winding paths of pillar candles to the champagne glasses sparkling beneath a million low-hanging chandeliers. In the midst the various romantic artificial light sources is one of the show’s producers Rachel, the type of woman who frequently forgets to shower and wears a ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’ t-shirt. Not exactly the Everlasting type.

Why is she working there? How does she do her soul-crushing job, against her better judgement? Why does everyone hate her? These are all things you’ll have to stick around to find out. And all the while, the sickening sheen of Everlasting’s faux journey to love carries you through each episode. It’s The Bachelor – warts and all edition.

What’s the vibe?

Frequently shifting between the stagey drama of ‘Everlasting’ and the crew working tirelessly behind the scenes – there’s something in UnREAL for everyone. Fans of reality TV will appreciate the nuanced attention to detail, and those antagonised by the concept of “forever love” will rejoice in its scathing cynicism toward the format.

It’s a show full of tensions: the tension between the gritty, ‘real’ drama backstage and the ‘fake’ drama of ‘Everlasting’, between having a solid job and having a moral code, between working relationships and romantic relationships, between exploitation and entertainment.

I watched the first two episodes of UnREAL, and was more wowed by it than when the koala pooped in Matilda’s navel of The Bachelor NZ. As a hardcore Bachelor fan, who has long harboured deep concerns about the format’s moral stance, this show seems to perfectly articulate everything it means to enjoy reality TV. The sacrifices that must be made, the principles that must be pushed aside, the things we are willing to forgive in the name of killer entertainment.

Beyond the heavy, incredibly timely themes of the show, the writing is snappy and hilarious. I found myself tearing up, laughing out loud and stroking my invisible beard in reverie. It’s a smart show that knows its subject incredibly well – harbouring both love and loathing for the modern state of reality television. It’s a television show responding directly to its own medium, and yet still miraculously creating a compelling story.

Who do you need to know?

Rachel:

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Played by Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Girls), Rachel is a feisty producer on ‘Everlasting’. She is exceedingly good at job, knowing exactly who to manipulate to get the best character arc, when to strike and how to do it. Despite her, Rachel harbours a deep resentment towards her job, and is hiding a secret from their last season that the crew won’t let her forget. Rachel represents the modern TV audience, in a way – she’s aiming higher, but can’t quite turn away from all the hair pulling and champagne sloshing that reality TV provides.

Quinn:

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The hardass big boss of ‘Everlasting’, Quinn is the yelly woman in charge played by Constance Zimmer. She’s the real ballbuster for anyone out there still hanging onto any notion of ‘reality’ in reality TV. Quinn runs backstage challenges between staff, forcing them to back different contestants and then mercilessly destroying them when their picks don’t make the cut. “I want nudity, 911 calls, catfights” she barks, hardly rose petals, candles and soft music, is it?

Jeremy:

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Rachel’s ex-boyfriend who, for reasons initially unknown, went through a dramatic break-up with our lovably unreliable main character. He’s a camera guy on the shoots, getting involved in the drama at every turn and stopping at nothing to get a shot. Whether or not he can call “cut” on his relationship with Rachel remains to be seen…

How to watch it?

Pour yourself a glass of expensive champagne, then throw it through the window and grab the whiskey. Swap the box of chocolates for some cold macaroni cheese in a paper plate off a crew caterer’s truck. This is reality television as it has never been seen before: gritty, unpredictable and unapologetically false.

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UnREAL debuts on Lightbox exclusively at 6pm on Tuesday June 2, and then will be delivered express from the US each week

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