I’m a big fan of the Paley Center and all the resources it has provided me in terms of research and Hulu-related procrastination. (Is it procrastination if you study television for a living? Who can say?)
In my attempt to be a more regular in my blogging, I will keep this on the shorter side. This event ran about 90 minutes, half of which was spent watching the Season 2 premiere, which aired this week. It was great fun to watch the episode in a room full of, you guessed it, mostly women. What surprised me was how raucous it was and how full of laughter. Watching Unreal at home, I would describe it as darkly comic at best, but in a crowd, it turns out to be a real laugh riot, though it was also funnier than I remember the show being in the past.
My review for the episode is this: the episode seemed a bit disconnected from Season 1, but very clear-eyed on the present and future of the show. When I say disconnected, I do not mean that season 1 is forgotten: far from it. Rachel ignores a call from Adam (who is not featured), and Jeremy is still looking to destroy his former flame. Rather, it was the tone that felt off — at some moments, it felt as though very little time had elapsed, particularly between Rachel and Jeremy, while with Rachel and Quinn, they are having a little too much fun getting matching “Money, Dick, Power” tattoos and seemed to have forgotten that, last season, Mary died. (Oh, sorry. Spoilers.) Perhaps the fuzziness with which we can view the events of last season is on purpose, allowing new viewers to get into the show without having watched any episodes beforehand. It felt wrong to me, but then again, I am not a paid employee of Everlasting. You could say, “Of course they’re callous. That’s the point.” But is it?
I think the show is more about what happens between pig-tailed producer Madison and a contestant who is grieving the loss of her fiance in a car accident. The catch? The contestant was driving the car. In a twisted Cyrano allusion, Rachel puts an ear-piece on Madison and demands she ask the contestant whether she killed her fiance. Nearly both women are driven to the brink in the process, the contestant and Madison weeping in equal measure. (As it turns out, Madison’s mother has recently died.) When this excruciating interview ends, Madison walks away, sobbing, and vomits on the ground. We think that she has reached her breaking point when she looks up, smiling, and declares: “That was awesome!” The audience around me roared with laughter.
That pull between guilt and pride, squeamishness and shamelessness, is what motivates the characters on this show and, to some extent, Unreal viewers as well. Madison is pained and thrilled by her own manipulations, and so are we. I think that’s why we all laughed so loud with her final line — it’s that embarrassed flicker of recognition, right?
The season holds a ton of promise. I’m particularly interested to see how the show treats Black Lives Matter and Men’s Rights Activism, two sociopolitical movements that we already see will have a prominent place in episodes to come. In other words, I’m ready for whatever comes next.
The other half of the event was a Q&A with the cast and creators, the panel being facilitated by former Bachelorette Andi Dorfman. I myself do not watch The Bachelorette — okay, I’ve watched one or two episodes, but it never grabbed me — so it was less exciting to me, even though Dorfman was very articulate and glamorous in her snazzy romper.
I also learned from this talk-back that creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro is just as funny and brilliant speaking as herself as she is speaking through her characters. A favorite moment in this event was Shapiro recalling her time at a women’s college, speculating to her friends how much money it would take for her to betray and humiliate women-kind in her job: “Twenty-five million dollars!” Then she graduated and took a job at The Bachelor and discovered, nope, it takes $1500 a month without benefits.
Other neat discoveries:
-Constance Zimmer, who I’ve been a fan of since the sitcom-of-yore, Good Morning, Miami, is just as cool as you would picture her. She’s Quinn, but without so hard of an edge.
-Craig Bierko was the first choice to play Chet, which Bierko takes humorous offense at. Witnessing his intensity in person really drove home why he is the right fit for the role.
-Josh Kelly has much more sympathy for his character, Jeremy, than I have for him. I suppose that is how actors should feel about their characters, but ech.
If you watch Unreal Seasons 1 or 2, please comment below, so we can discuss! Somebody needs to create a Watercooler emoji, because this is a show that benefits from some post-viewing gab.