Bettina Strauss/Lifetime
Shirley Li
January 04, 2018 AT 02:00 PM EST

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Shiri Appleby knows fans disliked their second date with UnREAL. “I mean, I kind of agreed,” the actress says of the largely negative reviews of the drama’s follow-up to its award-winning first impression. “I felt the same way. But it was sort of like, ‘Okay, it’s here in print, so let’s just address it and make the show better.’ ”

And what better way to win someone back than with a grand gesture? In lieu of offering viewers dozens and dozens of roses, UnREAL — about the manipulative crew behind a reality dating competition named Everlasting — focuses its third season on a woman sorting through scores of potential male suitors. The series-within-the-series’ new bachelorette is tech mogul Serena (Caitlin FitzGerald), who poses a unique challenge to Everlasting’s überproducers Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Appleby): She’s the first competitor who’s genuinely interested in falling in love.

Bettina Strauss/Lifetime

Unlike former leads, Serena has a sterling reputation and doesn’t need the show’s promise of good PR. Instead, new showrunner Stacy Rukeyser explains, “Serena is in that all-too-familiar predicament in which she’s doing really well at work and she’s rising up the ladder, but the higher up she goes, the harder it is to find a man.”

That conflict, Appleby notes, “centered” the season. “We asked, ‘How do we get this show back to what worked?’ And what worked was making it a show about feminism,” she says. “[With Serena], we could explore what it means to be a working woman and find love. What are the obstacles? Will men find you attractive if you’re more successful than them, or will they feel emasculated by you? How do you overcome that?” Maybe Everlasting has the answers.

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