Monday, June 6, 2016

unReal Roundtable: What Makes It So Deliciously Addicting [Contributors: Maddie, Chelsea, Jen W., Meredith, Lizzie]

One of the best not-so-guilty pleasures on television returns tonight, and Just About Write will be covering all of the insanity and delicious drama of UnReal season two. In light of tonight’s premiere, I, Maddie, invited a few of our staff writers to discuss the crazy and delicious drama of UnReal’s first season.

What initially drew you to the show?

Chelsea: I noticed an article for it on Twitter that interviewed the cast and, at the end, saw that the first four episodes were on the Lifetime TV app. I immediately downloaded the app and binged them all that afternoon. I had never watched The Bachelor before this (though I became a devout viewer this spring) but had loved a parody web series called Burning Love and thought this would be right up my alley and I was right. This show is most enjoyable when binged, I’ve learned. I hated watching it week to week, but upon rewatching, I had the best time following the story when it was one episode after another.

Maddie: Anyone who know me knows that I usually like to wait three episodes before deciding whether I will fully invest my time and emotions in a television show. UnReal managed to hook me just with its preview of the first nine minutes of the pilot they posted on YouTube. Like Chelsea, I shortly thereafter discovered that the first four episodes were available on the website and watched them in one afternoon. I’ve always loved anything making fun of The Bachelor franchise. Kristin Baldwin’s sarcasm and Merlot-infused recaps of the the show were a big influence on my voice as a writer. I was also a big fan of Burning Love. It was an excellent parody whereas UnReal is brilliant satire. I came for the concept, but stayed for the mix of crazy, amazing, soapy drama with smart writing and interesting characters.

This show is inherently made for the binge. Watching week by week for the remaining six episodes was painful. Lifetime made a brilliant decision to air the entire season as a marathon on the day of the finale. I made a day of it and used it as an opportunity to introduce my best friend to the show. It was so much fun to experience the crazy ride in ten hours, a large pizza, a pan of s’mores brownies, and a carton of ice cream.

Mer: I used to be a big Bachelor franchise watcher. So when I heard that this show was coming up, written and created by someone with actual experience working in the franchise, I was intrigued. The gritty, behind-the-scenes drama is the true excitement. We all want to know what happens when the cameras stop rolling — what things look like unedited. UnReal offers that look. I believe they offered the first couple episodes in advance on demand, and I definitely sped through them as much as my parenting allowed. It’s great for binging... but I also like watching live!

Jen W.: I started watching because everyone told me I'd love it and I was bored one day and turned it on. Never have I been happier to have listened to others. It should be noted that I really hate The Bachelor and its franchise, so this show is sort of vindicating my reasons for why, while being a super amazing show in its own right.

Lizzie: I got in on a recommendation and ended up unable to get out. I didn’t even know what the show was about when I started watching the first episode — all I knew was that it was supposed to be the behind the scenes of a show like The Bachelor. Now, having watched The Bachelor before, I couldn’t help but be hooked. I binged the first eight episodes and was just in time to see the last two live. And though I enjoyed both experiences, I think the show is definitely made to be watched in one sitting. With, like, some alcohol. Or ice cream.

Rachel Goldberg is such an fascinating lead protagonist. Against your better judgement, she kind of has you rooting for her. What do you find most interesting about her? 

Maddie: First, I need to say that it will be an injustice if Shiri Appleby doesn’t get any awards for her amazing performance as this character. Rachel is simultaneously an absolute mess and a force of nature. Maybe it is because I hold competence in high regard that I am most enamored with Rachel when she is being the best at her job. She may not always make the right decisions, but she knows what she is doing. However, there is a vulnerability to her that keeps her sympathetic to the audience, even with her Machiavellian ways. Rachel’s internal conflict is the most compelling element of this show. She knows that her manipulations and schemes are not necessarily right or good and she doesn’t like that she is doing these things, but she does it anyway because she knows it is what needs to be done to produce the results she wants.

Mer: I find it most interesting that she’s real. She definitely doesn’t have it all together, and she has to bend, break, ignore, abandon, and sometimes give the finger to the rules in order to succeed. She is no angel. And that’s awesome.

Jen W.: I love that she's deeply flawed and makes really terrible choices. I appreciate her tenacity and her ability to get what she wants.

Lizzie: I think everyone already said it, but what I love most about her is that — most times — she isn’t making the right choice. If perfect characters are boring and flawed characters are interesting, then characters who are a total mess, like Rachel, are the best kind.

Chelsea: She’s a mess but she’s so good at her job, and you can see her struggling to be a better person when she’s so good at being this master of manipulation. I like that she’s all of these things and doesn’t apologize when she’s a disaster. If these people are so easily manipulated, then I say manipulate like the wind.

Furthermore, is she redeemable and do you even want her to go on a redemption arc?

Maddie: The brilliant thing about this show is that as an audience member, I am simultaneously rooting for Rachel to regain her soul, but am also so mesmerized by how good she is at her job. The audience is just as conflicted as its main character. This conflict is creating some really compelling television. Rachel does get fulfillment from her job, as messy and morally grey as it is. I think this is most clear in the scene in episode three where she argues with her mother about her job. She knows how good she is, and she likes that. This quote from the Veronica Mars movie comes to mind:
“I've rolled around in the mud for so long, wash me clean and I don't recognize myself. So how about I just accept the mud and the tendency I have to find myself rolling in it.”
In the technical sense, she could be redeemed. She could leave this life behind and write her novel and save the world. However, she innately doesn’t want to and thus we, as an audience, don’t want her to either.

Mer: She is redeemable. But do I want her to be redeemed? Maybe to a degree. I mean, I think we saw in season one that at her core, she is a good person. But what makes her exciting and interesting and layered and her is that she isn’t perfect. So, no, I don’t think I want to see that change too much.

Jen W.: I think she's redeemable, but I don't know what purpose it would serve to fully do so for her. What I mean is that she needs to retain some of that edge — that willingness to do whatever it takes. If she changes that, it would be a pity.

Lizzie: Yes, she is redeemable, but the question is: does she want to be? I think that’s an even more important question than if we want her to be. And I think the answer to that is no. She might struggle at times, but Rachel is an antihero — and I don’t think she minds being one.

Chelsea: Eww, gross. Redemption sounds so boring. I don’t think she really needs redeeming. It’s the nature of the business and she’s not doing anything completely wrong. Let her get darker and actually do some real damage before we think about making her a nicer person.

Quinn King is queen, basically. What was your favorite Quinn moment?

Maddie: There is a moment in “Truth” where Quinn has a talk with Mary from “one grown ass woman to another” about not letting men take away your power as a woman. And it is mesmerizing. Constance Zimmer kills it in this scene. It is fierce and brash, but I remember feeling enraptured and empowered when watching it.

Mer: This one is hard, because she’s so great and fierce and strong. But I think when she screwed over Chet in the finale was my favorite. That man had it coming... especially from Quinn.

Jen W.: I love everything about her. I love her moments of reside right beneath the layer of her HBIC persona.

Lizzie: My favorite Quinn moment was the finale, without a doubt. Chet so had it coming. But my love for Quinn was love at first sight. She’s such a strong, kick-butt, capable female character. She’s the Walter White of female anti-heroes.

Chelsea: Quinn is my everything and almost everything she does is iconic in my eyes. I’ll have to go with the finale when she made Chet look like a fool and was a total boss. She just took charge of the situation and played everyone around her. She’s the one you should worry about redeeming down the line, even though I never want her to change.

Quinn’s dynamic and power struggle with Rachel is both problematic as it is compelling. Do you think these two actually care about each other?

Mer: Oh 100%. They really, really do. But they also both know that their profession isn’t easy on women, and in some ways that means they need to stick together, but in other ways that means it’s every woman for herself on occasion.

Jen W: I think they deeply care for one another but know that to stay on top as a woman means it's sometimes dog eat dog.

Lizzie: Without a doubt. Would they put their relationship above everything else, though? The answer to that is no. They love each other, yes, but they love themselves more.

Chelsea: Um, they’re basically soulmates. Even though they can be dangerous together, they make each other stronger and are a force. There is that great struggle of power and I could see Rachel getting the upper hand this season and challenging Quinn. Even when they are against each other, they need each other to make the crazy show work.

What OMG moment was either most shocking to you and/or your favorite?

Maddie: The suicide was a huge shocker, for sure. However, I will give a shout-out to episode four when we see Adam gives it his all he’s got (if you know what I mean) to ensure he gets backing from investors for his hotel. It was the first time watching the show that I had that “Holy guacamole! They just went there!” kind of moment. Not only that the plot point happened, but we got to see it and it wasn’t glamorized as something hot and sexy — it was desperate, dirty, and just felt wrong.

Mer: The suicide. For sure. Shocking and sad and scary. A really emotional moment.

Jen W.: What Mer said. Yeah.

Lizzie: I’m gonna third that. I just didn’t think they would go that far.

Chelsea: The suicide for obvious reasons, but also that moment in the finale when Rachel just breaks down in the confessional to Adam about leaving her, but it turns out to be her manipulating him one more time so Anna leaves him. I was on the edge of my seat.  

Can we all agree that Jeremy and Chet are the worst?

Maddie: Chet is a terrible human as much as the word “moist” is just plain uncomfortable. I am glad that we all agree on this. But seriously, Jeremy is terrible.

The reason why I have such a visceral dislike of Jeremy is because he is the epitome of “The Nice Guy.” Nice Guys appear to be kind and understanding as long as girls are into them or do not threaten their fragile-as-glass masculinity, but then become vile jerks the moment a girl doesn’t cater to the mold he has set for her. Jeremy just happens to wear henleys and quilted vests instead of a fedora, so it’s harder to spot. Jeremy and Rachel were never going to work out because he only cares for the image of Rachel he has in his mind and not who she actually is. He can’t handle her messiness or her fierceness and decides to become the worst as a result. I would have cut Jeremy some slack if he had broken up with Rachel when he found out about her hook-up with Adam. It was a betrayal; however, resorting to public humiliation took it a step too far. Furthermore, him recruiting Rachel’s mother to go on the offensive against her is the turning point for me. Rachel and Quinn are self-aware enough to recognize that their decisions aren't always the best and can hurt people, while Jeremy still carries that “but I'm such a nice guy” attitude. That's why I can still love them and passionately dislike Jeremy.

Mer: Um, maybe I’m the dissenting voice here but... Chet — yes for sure. However, I actually sometimes like Jeremy. I think he, too, is a good person deep down, and I think he loves (or loved) Rachel. He was hurt and lashed out, and of course was not always the greatest but what person is? It’s a double standard (in my opinion) to love and accept Rachel and Quinn as flawed and layered, but call Jeremy the worst for the same thing.

Jen W.: Chet is human garbage, but I wouldn't say the same for Jeremy. He's in an impossible position and Rachel doesn't get to not shoulder her fair share of the blame for blowing up that particular relationship. Jeremy isn't perfect, but neither is Rachel. I feel for the guy at times. I never feel for Chet. I hope he falls off a cliff.

Lizzie: I don’t like either. I think it’s easier to understand where Jeremy was coming from, but I’m not about to forgive him because to err is human. Well, yes, it is, but you gotta pick a side. I’ve picked mine.

Chelsea: Chet is garbage but I love how he brings drama to the show and some of the best Quinn moments are when she’s one-upping him. Jeremy is SO BORING. Like, why is he even on this show? I could totally do without his dull self. He adds literally nothing to the narrative. At least Chet is somebody I love to hate.

In regards to shipping, do you have any ships on this show? The drama of this show makes shipping very messy. 

Maddie: I mean, I hardcore ship Adam and Rachel but it's my guilty pleasure ship. The Goldwell feels are strong, people. I swear, you give me sassy banter, UST, and loads of nonverbal communication, and I can’t help myself but board the ship. They remind me of my days as a Gossip Girl fan — shipping two problematic individuals that really work together. Much like Chuck and Blair, they are both live in the moral grey, but they respect that about each other. The constant weight of Rachel’s internal conflict was lifted in her interactions with Adam. Not to mention their chemistry is insane. I sincerely hope they revisit these two this season. I am seriously counting the days until Adam’s return this season and their confrontation which has to lead to hate sex.

Mer: I think I ship everyone. I ship Rachel with happiness, mostly, and so whatever form that comes in, I like. I enjoyed watching her with both Jeremy and Adam, and I even ship Rachel and Quinn. That’s one of my favorite things about this show — I can and do ship everyone.

Jen W.: I ship everyone with a good therapist. No, seriously.

Lizzie: No. Though I might joke that I ship Rachel and Quinn. Because, what is there to ship here?

Chelsea: Rachel and Quinn are soulmates. Obviously.

Do you watch anything from the Bachelor franchise? If so, how has UnReal affected how you watch the show(s)?

Maddie: I’ve watched The Bachelor on and off for a really long time. When my sister was in a sorority, she got really into it, and thus it became our thing to watch it and give sarcastic commentary together. I adore that Lifetime chose to air UnReal in the timeslot after The Bachelorette because then you get to enjoy the manufactured product and then immediately go into all the craziness that is really going on behind the scenes. This past season of The Bachelor, I couldn’t take anything seriously because I now saw the extreme degree in just how fake everything is.

Mer: I did! For years, I never missed a season. But I stopped before watching UnReal, so it’s really only afforded me that sort of retrospective look at how fake and forged and edited The Bachelor shows really are.

Jen W.: Have I mentioned I loathe The Bachelor? 'Cause I really do.

Lizzie: I’ve watched both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette on and off for years. It’s one of my guilty pleasures — a.k.a., the show I watch with my sister to make fun of everything and everyone. After UnReal though, I can’t help but see the manipulation in everything. It’s definitely made it less fun.

Chelsea: I had never seen The Bachelor or The Bachelorette until this past spring, but now I’m hooked. My friends and I are all TV and Film Production students and I have my own reality cooking show. We love watching the manipulated drama because we want to be those manipulators one day. The show has great production value for the budget it has, so we love it for the romance and because we get that extra production side of it that nobody ever pays attention to.

Finally, what are you expecting/wanting from this upcoming season?

Maddie: I am looking forward to how UnReal handles the issue of race. We briefly touched on it in season one with the contrast of Shamiqua and Athena, but I really want to see them really go for it. I love BJ Britt and am forever bitter that he was killed off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so I am so excited to see him as our suitor this year. I want to keep seeing Quinn and Rachel teamed up because together they are an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. Mainly I just want them to bring on the crazy but with the smart, witty, juicy writing we had last season.

Mer: I have no expectations! The show is fantastic, and I’m absolutely certain I’ll enjoy season two as much as season one!

Jen W.: I can't wait to see how the discussions of race are handled. This show hasn't shied away from much, and I hope they do it justice.

Lizzie: Insanity. Total insanity. I think they’re going to surprise me, which is rare for a TV show these days. But that’s my favorite part about it.

Chelsea: Having only seen one promo, I’m excited to see Quinn and Rachel working together and how long that will last. I don’t know what they have in store for us, but the new guy is super cute and I’m just ready for the madness to begin. Also, all the awards to Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby.
What are you looking forward to in unReal's new season? What hooked you on the show in the first place? Sound off in the comments below and be sure to check out the season two premiere of unReal tonight at 10|9c on Lifetime!


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