UnREAL Season Two Review
"The first two episodes continue the show's excellence"
Last summer, UnREAL
became the first Lifetime series to make a major critical smash, premiering to rave reviews (including mine
). The series went on to win a Peabody award for excellence in scripted television entertainment- high praise for a series on a network best known for cheesy movies of the week rather than high quality dramas. But that is the brilliance of UnREAL
: the show contains enough soapy elements that it doesn't feel completely out of place on Lifetime, but it also manages to soar to the highest reaches of television excellence by fearlessly allowing its central characters to explore the darkest reaches of themselves. Watching an episode of UnREAL
, I often find myself on the edge of my seat, experiencing the same level of stress I once had watching an episode of Breaking Bad
. An odd comparison, perhaps, but the constant current of suspense and pressure running through each episode of UnREAL
harkens back to that watershed series.
Now, if you've made it this far in this review and haven't actually watched the first season of UnREAL
yet, well, I urge you to step away from the computer and do just that. If you have watched the explosive first season, this review absolutely won't spoil anything for you about the second season, which premieres tonight, June 6.
After watching the second season's first two episodes (which were made available in advance for critics), I can safely say that UnREAL
has managed to maintain the high standards it set with its first season. The show picks up with start of production on the next season of Everlasting
, helmed by Rachel (the consistently spectacular Shiri Appleby) as its new showrunner, with Quinn (Constance Zimmer, as biting as ever) taking on the Chet role of supervising producer. The bachelor this time around is Darius Beck (B.J. Britt), an NFL quarterback embroiled in some pretty bad press (which seems to be the theme for all bachelors of the series). Only a twist: Darius is black (something the actual Bachelor
franchise has never encountered). Naturally, Quinn and Rachel round up a cast of ladies meant to draw out the ultimate amount of drama, including a black college activist, a Southern gal who owns (and wears) a Confederate flag bikini on night one, and the daughter of an NFL team owner.
While racial politics are certainly a major element of the season's first two episodes, UnREAL
has a number of other irons in the fire. Both Jeremy (Josh Kelly) and Chet (Craig Bierko) are back with the show (the latter after spending some time- and dropping some weight- on a spiritual retreat). Rachel's precarious mental health is once again a major element to contend with, as the added pressure of running Everlasting
quickly begins to take its toll. And, after a montage of partying and obtaining matching tattoos (summing up the consistent string of poor life choices of both women wonderfully in the span of a few minutes), the relationship between Rachel and Quinn isn't on the most stable of ground.
It is that last element that makes me most intrigued for what is to come for the remaining episodes UnREAL
's 10-episode second season. The relationship between Quinn and Rachel is the heart and soul of the series. Quinn was, and remains, a master manipulator, who controls those she works with just as much as she controls the contestants and suitor on Everlasting
. Rachel has, for all intents and purposes, sought to emulate Quinn's manipulations, and doing so has only served to further muddy Rachel's own grip on her sanity.
And that's another thing that is hinted at in season two's opening episodes: does Rachel have a genuine mental illness? While the final scenes of season one made it appear that Rachel's struggles with mental illness (rather than simply succumbing to the extreme stress of her job and actions) were the machinations of her overbearing (and over-prescribing) mother, the truth is a great deal more hazy after these first two episodes. Whether or not UnREAL
ever gives us a clear and concise answer on this topic, it only adds another layer of confusion to the series in the best possible way.
is a show that explores the artifice that lies beyond the guise of "reality" television. And, in doing so, deals head on with the artifice that exists in real life. As I said last year, I never expected a series this nuanced, smart, and plain biting to air on a network with the track record of Lifetime. But boy if I'm not thrilled it does. UnREAL
returns tonight on Lifetime.