UnREAL’s reality show-within-a-show, Everlasting, will do what The Bachelor has never done before: Feature an African-American bachelor.
Despite the expectation that Everlasting would return with a twist in the second season — Everlasting: Extreme Makeover, Everlasting: Paradise Island, Everlasting: One Night Stand, anybody? — the show will be sticking with its regular format.
“Initially it was so important that this was the Quinn [Constance Zimmer] and Rachel [Shiri Appleby] show, and that this was really sort of the female Breaking Bad,” executive producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro said at the Television Critics Association’s press tour on Wednesday. “For us, we always break their story first, and then the reality show comes second. Thematically what we wanted to explore in season 2 was the same Everlasting format, but just changing the guy.”
That new guy is Darius Hill, a 20-something professional football player. His established fame aside, Darius’ casting on Everlasting is momentous even for a fictional reality show. “It’s the elephant in the room… like the fact that those shows have never had an African-American lead,” Shapiro told EW ahead of the panel.
Shapiro noted during the panel that she had been involved in discussions on whether or not to include an African-American bachelor when she worked on The Bachelor. “If anything we’ve all been privy to those conversations, because being in television, you have to be a pragmatist,” said Shapiro, who also worked day jobs in advertising and fashion. “I’ve heard in those day jobs really appalling things about race all the time… For us, what we thought about was the Cheerios commercial — with this sweet couple waking up in the morning and making breakfast — and the KKK went nuts on Twitter, because it was an interracial couple. In an era when driving while black is dangerous, there are few things more pressing than this conversation. We don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel. We really want to keep talking about stuff that we’re incredibly passionate about and we think is important.”
“This amazing show… gives us a unique opportunity to also make a statement about the media trying to make a statement about race, so that’s also what we’re doing,” said executive producer Carol Barbee, who adds with a laugh, “It’s really fun to watch a bunch of white women school the world on race.”
In truth, Shapiro is incredibly nervous about the second season. “Breaking this story is so scary,” she said ahead of the panel. “I’m a Jewish white girl breaking a story about race, I mean we have people of color on our staff and they’ve definitely taken a very, very primary role in talking about a lot of these things, but it’s terrifying.”
Not only will the show address race, but will also take on gender equality. “The first season was really about the princess fantasy, and this idea that we’re all intoxicated by the idea that one guy can show up and change your life,” Shapiro said. “What [we’re] both incredibly interested in talking about in season 2 is masculinity, and how does the men’s rights movement intersect with feminism?” Over hiatus, Chet (Craig Bierko) has gone on a retreat and “found his inner man” which is sure to lead to upheaval on a set full of women.
Unfortunately, Chet’s new mindset will filter down to Rachel’s ex, Jeremy (Josh Kelly). “Jeremy, who is incredibly disillusioned and pissed off, and really, really mad at Rachel, is easily commandeered into this anti-feminist mens movement,” Shapiro said. “There’s a lot of anger and a lot of vitriol when he comes back.”
“He’s coming back pretty angry and coming gunning for Rachel,” Barbee added. “He’s still on the show because they can’t fire him after everything that went down last year. She’s stuck coming to work with him and he’s not happy with her.”
RELATED VIDEO: A scene from UnREAL
The one thing UnREAL‘s second season won’t include is anything to do with the current season of The Bachelor, which Shapiro confided they’re not even watching. “A certain dating competition show just premiered this week,” Zimmer said. “More than ever, people say how they watch these shows differently now, and [they are] thinking about what Quinn and Rachel would be doing. For us, that’s the hugest compliment ever. It’s all we ever wanted to do, is pull back the curtain. We’ve been able to do that, though it makes me very nervous about the second season.”
UnREAL is expected to return this summer on Lifetime.