Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Underthinking Pilot Season: UnReal

Hello there,

Cat here. Let's talk about UnReal. Yes, I know it usually takes me ages to talk about a pilot now but the ratings for UnReal weren't great (not that the hits for this blog are fantastic either) and I want to see this series through to the end. A bit of background first. I haven't watched that much of The Bachelor/The Bachelorette. I can't remember watching any of The Bachelor actually. I tried to watch some of last season (Andi's season) of The Bachelorette but I quickly became bored and hated everyone too much and got distracted by other things. What I have watched is every available episode of Burning Love and a lot of other terrible dating reality shows so I do have some inkling of what's being satirized and analyzed here.

UnReal, in case you were one of the under a million people who caught the pilot, is a show about the world behind the scenes of a show called Everlasting. It's pretty much The Bachelor but with even more emphasis on the fairytale romance. The Bachelor doesn't try this hard. So I guess more like "I Want to Marry Harry" if they took it seriously? I don't know. The series seems like it's going to focus on Shiri Appleby's (Dating Rules From My Future Self) character Rachel Goldberg but there's a nice ensemble dynamic happening. There's a lot of shorthand in the pilot but I'm willing to move past that as long as they find the depth in the characters during the rest of the season. Right now, Appleby makes the show. I can't remember seeing a female character like this for a long time... maybe ever. She's almost the opposite of most male antiheroes/geniuses who are running around solving crimes and diagnosing illnesses. She's smart and warm and empathetic and she's using her powers for evil. She feels bad about it but there's still a ruthless streak in her that's very compelling. She does drink a bit in the pilot but so far we've gotten no sign that she can't handle herself (in spite of her having to ask her boss to sign something saying she was sober and showed up to work on time). It's what she has to do at work that's actually taking a toll on her physical and mental well-being.

Other than the fantastic casting of Shiri Appleby, I think the best part of the pilot was the behind the scenes machinations. I came into the show expecting soapy trash. The kind of fix you get from Empire or Devious Maids. UnReal tries for that a bit but I don't think the humor or the dysfunction quite lands because you're held at such a distance from the action. You're not watching The Bachelor. You're watching The Bachelor sometimes two or three steps removed as the people in the control room watch Rachel watch the contestants. No, what's most interesting is not the tough-talking boss who is being played a little too over the top right now. It's seeing how the pieces are choreographed and coordinated and seeing those final pushes from Rachel that seal the deal.

Of course I do still have concerns. I'm hoping the show doesn't play too much into cliches and stereotypes. In addition to the unnecessarily brash boss who's secretly caring we have a workplace rival who can't match up and a quiet intern who they lingered on way too many times for her not to be important in the future. Even then I'm encouraged by the diversity of this cast in terms of gender, ethnicity, and age and the fact that they tackled the lack of the diversity on The Bachelor franchises in one of the first lines of the show. My other big concern is avoiding a romance, unrequited or mutual between Rachel and Adam Cromwell, the bachelor character. I can feel them pulling in that direction and I really wish they wouldn't.

CONCLUSION: Watch this show. This was a very solid pilot. I think it's a show with something interesting to say. It falls into that nice middle ground between a show that tries so hard to shock you that you're left with a ton of filler episodes and a show that never shoots for the fences but puts out a consistent product... that you can skip for a bunch of episodes and not really miss. I can't sell it any more just from the pilot but I have faith in it.