‘UnREAL’ Is The Feminist Version Of ‘The Bachelor’ You’ve Been Waiting For

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If you are already a fan of ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘The Bachelorette’ then you will love this. If you aren’t a fan of either reality show, you will DEFINITELY love this!

Lifetime network’s new series ‘UnREAL’ shows the dark and superficial happenings behind the world of reality TV. The series focuses on one of the executives on the show, Quinn, calling the shots and manipulating story lines from the control room, played by Constance Zimmer, and one of the producers who works closely with contestants, played by Shiri Appleby.

The show is getting a lot of buzz not just because of its subject matter based on a cult hit TV show, but because of how it came about. ‘UnREAL’ was created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro who has actually worked on both ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Bachelorette’ and decided to turn her experience into a fictional black comedy about this genre.

If you’re a feminist thinking that this is the type of show you’d normally avoid, think again. The opening shot shows Shiri’s character Rachel wearing a shirt that says “this is what a feminist looks like” and it figuratively and literally sets the tone for the show.

In an interview with The Mary Sue, Sarah talked about how the series aims to shed light on this kind of reality show while also presenting a decidedly feminist and empowering point of view.

“I think, to be totally frank, we wanted to put our character’s main conflict right on her chest, so nobody missed it. There is a delicious irony of her finding herself where she is, actually back where she is, even though she believes something very different. And we talked a lot about the fact that she’s probably been wearing that shirt since college and its thread bare because she’s washed it so much,” she said.

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Rachel’s backstory is that she is a young woman in her 20s who has basically sold her soul for a paycheck and has to constantly navigate and balance her strong leanings with the subject matter on the show she has to face every day. This is an aspect Sarah, also the writer and director, can personally identify and wanted to explore.

“the decision to set it in this world of reality TV was primarily because it gave us the opportunity to ask a lot of questions. What is the cause and effect of these kinds of shows? What is it like to be a woman working on a show like this? And how is it be a woman in 2015 who is ambitious about her career, but also feels hot girls get everything? All the confusion around sexuality and gender wrapped in this crazy world of ponies and pearls and gowns, was pretty appealing,” she said.

Nina Lederman, senior VP of scripted at Lifetime, said in an interview that she was hooked from the moment she saw the pilot and knew she had to make this show happen. One of the great things about not just the behind-the-scenes characters on the show but also the contestants is that they are portrayed in a more complex way than their reality TV counterparts on ‘The Bachelor’.

“It was a huge endeavor for us to turn these paper dolls into 3D human-beings. It was a huge aim of the show to do that. we had an opportunity to make these girls, who are often flattened out on reality TV show, have a chance to come out of the shadows and become real-live people. Women with parents, history, brains, and feelings all their own,” she said.

One of the issues they deal with on ‘UnREAL’ is rape and sexual assault. As in the reality TV versions, there are often controversies where situations get out of hand and Sarah says it was important for them to touch on this. The incident itself was more ambiguous, as the focus was more on how women are treated in regard to sexual assault.

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” The fact that these are real people and real things can and will happen to them can’t be overlooked. An important part of that interaction with the girl, Maya, and Rachel, which we’ve all probably been a part of, was when Rachel says ‘we can do something about this’ and Maya doesn’t want to because she’s humiliated. That kind of public shaming that keeps people from talking about it. So it was a really important moment for us, to show that there is real danger when women are put in these types of situations,” she explained.

Having two female leads in a TV series who are mostly unlikable is a mostly unheard of characterization for women on TV. But it is starting to change now that there is more diversity and more flawed, complex and realistic representations of women on screen rather than the one-dimensional characters. Sarah says this was very intentional.

“We felt we had an absolute priority to create female characters that can be as flawed and complicated as Don Draper or Walter White and Tony Sopranos. There was a great step in that direction with a show like Nurse Jackie, that show women who can be both heroic and flawed, terrible and wonderful, strong and scared. All the things male characters on TV are allowed to be,” she said.

“And then there is the fact that we had two female leads who talk all the time, and not about men, but about their fears, ambitions, morals, work. We are very proud that we clobbered the Bechdel Test. Our female characters rarely talk about men with each other, and are very much in control of their own lives,” she added while also mentioning this was possible thanks to Lifetime network.

In another interview with Cosmopolitan.com Sarah says the way audiences are responding to these variations of female characters is a great sign of the times.

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“The fact that women are in there now, that you can allow them to be really screwed up but root for them, I think that’s really profound. Both in terms of gender equality and storytelling.”

Creating a show like this is a retribution of sorts for Sarah who says the way she and other producers were made to manipulate and treat women on ‘The Bachelor’ was horrible for her.

“It was destroying other women. It was almost like a cartoon, how black-and-white and diametrically opposed the show was to who I was. Just the idea that I had spent my whole life advocating for other women, protecting other kids at school from getting bullied, talking about body image. I founded a high-school feminist club. I went to Sarah Lawrence. I had spent my entire life battling the beauty industry. I was really clear about who I was. I was day-to-day doing stuff that in my gut felt wrong for me,” she reveals.

Overall it is important subject matter to dissect because the fact that ‘The Bachelor’ is so addictive and cult-like shows there is a huge section of society who are still enamored with the “happily ever after” ideal.

“The princess fantasy is so potent. We drill it in starting with little girls, this idea that if you’re pretty enough and skinny enough, that everything will be OK and somebody will save us and all our problems will be over. That feels really human. There are a ton of women who are super smart and really ambitious and totally have their lives together who love those shows. I kind of think it’s a fantasy or a relief from being a career woman,” said Sarah.

It is a fascinating topic and we are excited to see this show unfold. Just like ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Bachelorette’, we hope ‘UnREAL’ will create the same type of viral discussions online and amongst friends. Take a look at a sneak peek at the series:

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