If you’re the type of viewer that considers episodes of the international reality TV franchise The Bachelor a succession of shiny signposts on the way to a soft-focus apocalypse, we’ve got a show for you.
If you see it as a bit of fun, light-hearted entertainment that arts students take way too seriously, we’ve got a show for you.
If you see it as a wondrous hike through the dancing forests of romantic love, we’ve got a show for you.
And it’s the same show.
On the surface, UnREAL is a dramatised behind-the-scenes look at competitive, televised dating. But at its core, it’s a dark, often unsettling, sometimes very funny satire – and easily one of the most interesting and addictive shows of the year. And it’s coming to SBS 2.
Here’s why you need to watch it…
1. It’s everything you expect would happen behind the scenes of The Bachelor, to the power of 10
After an on-air meltdown during the final episode of last season’s Everlasting, a meltdown that luckily resulted in a massive ratings spike, producer phenom Rachel Goldberg returns for the new season’s premiere.
Joining her friend/mother-figure/boss/nemesis Quinn King (the electric Constance Zimmer), the two work together and against each other to deliver the most watchable, tweetable season in Everlasting’s history.
It doesn’t just pull back the curtain, it rips it from its rod, dances on it, tosses it into the backyard, rubs it in shit and sparkles, then gets an assistant to tear it to shreds.
2. It’s a show made by women, involving all shades of women, negotiating how to be a woman while relating to your fellow women
At first glance, creators Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro seem to be going for the jugular via a shattering of the Adam’s apple, but we quickly learn that the male gaze isn’t their primary focus. This is a heightened examination of the female perspective, yet doesn’t feel like an examination as it’s just so much fun.
And every time you expect a female character to act in a way that aligns with societal expectations (or in other words, with the inauthentic tropes of [mostly network] television), chances are she won’t. And it’s a delight to behold.
3. It "dismantles" our want for fairy tales
Who doesn’t love a good want dismantling? Of all the wants that we’ve always wanted to dismantle it’s the want that Shapiro wants to dismantle.
“Viewers want to believe in fairy tales, and those reality shows tap into that want. Our show dismantles that want.”
Indeed, idealised gender roles are fantastic (for toy companies), as they set a series of (illogical, inhumane) standards by which we all aim to meet (in a dark alley, with a baseball bat).
4. The satire chomps its prey with sharp, whitened teeth
The imagined reality of UnREAL is a place where every significant character has some semblance of a soul gasping for air beneath all the posturing and cold-bloodedness. But they all live in a society that constantly forces them to choose between success in the outward, image and reputation-conscious world, and in the affairs of the honest heart.
Then it goes on to question whether owning an honest heart is even possible in this particular age, or even more dauntingly, whether its possible at all.
How does it get away with such cynicism? It comes at us with the familiar feel of a network show. Somehow, no matter how brutal the actual events may be, they’re handled with the accessible lightness of a show 14-year-old girls might marathon watch during school holidays.
5. It’s a fascinating study of one of the most elusive mental conditions – Borderline Personality Disorder
Rachel Goldberg suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, or so she (and we) think. BPD is a difficult disorder to diagnose, as many of its symptoms are deplorable human traits of which we’re all capable (manipulation, narcissism, etc…). A series-running question is whether Rachel is a master of a job that requires such Machiavellian machinations because of her ‘disorder’ - or because she has an innate talent for it.
Either way, Rachel’s been made to believe she’s crazy. But on whose authority? Society’s? Her psychologist mother’s? YOURS?
6. Yes, there’s still a love story (or two)
Rachel’s former fiancé is an Everlasting cameraman, so there’s still something happening there. And she’s got the banter/sexual tension going with the season’s bachelor, a British trust fund playboy baby.
Whether Rachel’s true love story is with one or the other, or even with one of the many other Everlasting players, is anyone’s guess.
Except for mine, because I’ve seen it.
If you’re looking for a highly entertaining new series that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve just Andy Dufresne’d your way through 500 yards of sewage only to be met with a sealed end, turn off The Bachelor and check out UnREAL.
UnREAL premieres Monday 22 February at 8:30pm (AEDT) on SBS 2. Watch episodes after they air on SBS On Demand.