Here, however, the proverbial mutated mutts are simple suggestions, baseless interview questions, and straight-up mind manipulation that Rachel wields in order to get the women to edge them – and her – all the closer to the prize. There’s a compelling amount of back-breaking alley-oops Rachel jumps through, in the pilot alone, to successfully maneuver the situation to her liking. She causes distrust amongst the initially friendly woman, she convinces Adam to keep her girls over others’, she twists words and she prods egos, all for the money shot of a few seconds of screaming and a storm-off into the night. The best part? She does it all while wearing a filthy “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt that appears would able to stand up autonomously if left to its own devices.
Funny thing is, all of this behind-the-scenes drama would be a cloud of smoke and no substance if the characters underneath it all didn’t feel substantial, and thanks to the seedy weight of the world, they do. Appleby especially enthrals as our main introduction to the idea of a behind closed doors look into reality TV.
As the pilot drags on nearly in-real-time from late night to early morning (certain scenes require night shoots), Rachel gradually looses gas, reacting slower to others, her shoulders sagging, speech lagging. She also shows visible hesitation in the heavy manipulation she must endure in the name of her job, never wanting to out-and-out hurt these women, but also never knowing when to actually “turn off” and call it a day. Does any of this nasty behavior actually happen in the production of real life reality shows? Who knows, but UnREAL is just convincing enough to make you believe it with ease.
UnREAL‘s biggest issue, in the end, may lie at the kernel of its success: all of the intrigue of the world and fascination of the drama begin to weigh heavy just three episodes in; light and frothy summer entertainment, this is not. As Rachel continues to act as puppeteer to a new woman each week, it’s hard to tell what the show’s ultimate message is. It argues that the women on the show are normal and what we see on TV is false, a mirage created by the studios to generate DVR recordings. So who’s at fault here? Rachel, for aiding and abetting it? The women, for succumbing to it? Us, for watching it? UnREAL presents novel, topical ideas regarding what passes for modern entertainment, but sometimes it concerns itself so much in trying to be about something that it forgets that first and foremost, it needs to pass for modern entertainment as well.
It's got big ideas and a dark enough tone to tackle them in due time, but for the first three hours at least, UnREAL introduces itself as a shockingly watchable showbiz farce with only fleeting teases of what could be something truly special.