UnREAL premiere recap: Return
Lifetime's scripted drama about a reality dating show goes deliciously dark.
If you love The Bachelor, you’re going to like UnREAL. If you hate The Bachelor, you’re going to like UnREAL. So basically, Lifetime has done it: They’ve found the perfect show for everyone.
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m not quite ready to call UnREAL the perfect show, but I do think they created this show just for me: It’s created by Marti Noxon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I love, and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, a former employee off The Bachelor, which I also love (to hate), and it stars Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer, both of whom I love, love, love. And now that my fangirl gushing is out of the way, let’s actually talk about the show…
The reason it’s so good is the balance I was talking about above. If you watch Bachelor (or Farmer Wants a Wife, Beauty and The Geek, The Swan, etc. etc.), you likely watched UnREAL and thought the whole time, “Is that really true?” And if you don’t watch those shows, you probably watched UnREAL and thought, “SEE! I knew it was all fake!” I’m a little bit in the middle: I think most of the things we saw on UnREAL‘s premiere are true to actual reality shows, but then it took a pretty great dark turn that I just pray people aren’t subjected to in real life.
So if you didn’t watch at all—or you watched and already forgot—here are 10 things you need to know about the reality show within UnREAL (stay with me):
1. The reality show is called Everlasting.
2. The “suitor” who all the ladies are fighting for is Adam Cromwell (played by Freddie Stroma). He is the British heir to the Cromwell hotel fortune. (Likely real-life inspiration? Season 9 Bachelor Lorenzo Borghese, an Italian prince whom we all have to thank for introducing us to Erica Rose.)
3. The “Chris Harrison” of Everlasting isn’t given a name in the premiere, at least from what I could tell, but IMDb tells us it’s “Host Graham” (played by Brennan Elliott).
4. Rachel Goldberg, played by Shiri Appleby, is one of the contestant handlers. She wears a shirt that says, “This is what a feminist looks like” and seems to just generally hate her life. She has a secret backstory, which causes everyone on set to gasp when she returns to set for the season.
5. Quinn, played brilliantly by Constance Zimmer, is the producer who yells things like, “It’s not my fault that America’s racist” and “I need 10 times more pillar candles people. TEN TIMES!”
6. Chet is the show’s creator; he also likes to yell things; aaaand he’s sleeping with Quinn.
7. There’s a camera guy named Jeremy (Josh Kelly), who has a past with Rachel. But his current fiancé is working on the show now. I foresee some behind-the-cameras drama.
8. Rachel is in competition with two other contestant handlers: Shia and Jay. Jay seems indifferent to Rachel’s return, and Shia seems to hate her.
9. The female contestants of import are MILF Mary, mean girl Britney, “horseface tearjerker… and virgin” (according to Quinn) Faith, and Brazilian swimsuit model Grace.
10. The new PA is Madison, but you don’t need to remember her name because Quinn doesn’t.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s get to the UnREAL series premiere and the Everlasting season premiere (like I said, stay with me): Just from the opening shot we learn a lot about the producing of a reality dating show. Apparently a woman named Shamiqua cannot be the first woman out of the carriage (yes, they use carriages instead of limos)—even if she is gorgeous, can play the violin, and “went to Spellman.” According to Quinn, the “first girl is out of the carriage is always a ‘wifey’ and that is not a wifey.” On the believability scale, I’d say this is pretty high.
After a few more takes, Suitor Adam decides he’s had enough and walks off. And here is where we get to see why Rachel is so good at her job. Quinn—who is clearly blackmailing her for reasons we don’t yet know—sends Rachel off to get Adam back and to get him to sign the show contract, which seems like something that should have been done by the time you’re filming the show. Anyway, she finds him sitting by a lake and pulls the ol’ reverse psychology on him. In an attempt to make it about herself losing her job, she’s able to get him to open up about why he doesn’t want the job of The Bachelor Suitor. Turns out he’s not a fan of the show and doesn’t want to ride a horse shirtless while shouting “I’m going to meet my wife tonight!” (Okay, now I need to see that on this show AND on The Bachelor.)
Through their lakeside chat, we learn that Adam has a bad public image (taking selfies with hookers will do that I guess). So Rachel suggests he use the show to help him clean up his image. “A couple of weeks on the cover of Us Weekly will do the trick,” she says.
And he’s back! Coming out of the carriage, Britney makes a big impression—by making out with him and grabbing his ass. After he meets each lady, he gives her a diamond bracelet. As “Host Graham” tells all the ladies later, at the end of the night he will “reclaim” those bracelets for those he decides to send home… and you thought not getting a rose was bad!
NEXT: Let the cocktail party (or whatever the Everlasting equivalent is called) begin
With all of the ladies out of the carriages, the night can begin. Quinn preps her contestant wranglers to help her get the best footage: They are to protect wifeys Anna and Grace and starve Brittany to make her into the true villain. Oh yeah, and they get “cash bonuses for nudity, 911 calls, catfights.” I’m sure everyone on that crew feels really good about themselves right about now.
Aaaand I take that back, because Shia doesn’t seem to have a soul. Dressed as a waitress so she can mingle on camera, she strolls up to Faith and straight up tells her she needs to tell Adam that she’s a virgin. Luckily Rachel—who is dressed like a homeless person, not a waitress—catches Adam’s attention, and she comforts Faith and convinces her to stay.
Sidenote: “Host Graham” is drinking with the contestants—does Chris Harrison do this!?
Next, Rachel tries to get Mary to talk to Adam. But Mary sees right through all of this: “So this is a setup and I’m the old desperate one?” Another member of the crew, Dr. Wagerstein, talks to Rachel through her walkie earpiece. The kind-of-terrible doc tells her how Mary’s ex-husband broke her arm. As the light goes out a little more from her eyes, Rachel takes that news and uses it to twist the knife a bit in Mary’s heart. But it works! She goes over to talk to Adam and uses her daughter’s teddy bear as backup.
Grace is the next contestant to get a love-seat sit-down with Adam. They clearly have chemistry—but it heats up too quickly for the reality show cameras when Adam grabs her boob. Quinn is not having it: “It’s episode 1! She’s supposed to be marriage material, not his Mexican hooker.” (She’s Brazilian.)
Rachel to the rescue again! She pulls Adam into a room and takes off his mic (I spy someone else having chemistry!) and tells him he has to follow the rules. He says he knows the ridiculous rules of this show and that Faith is just there to be the butt of a joke. Rachel tells him that she knows how he can flip Quinn out and yet still “play by the rules.”
So with 32 minutes to sunrise, “Host Graham” tells the ladies that if Adam calls their name, they can go to the “safe zone” and have a glass of champagne. If not, they have to return the bracelet. Adam quickly calls a bunch of names and we get down to one glass of champagne. (And “Host Graham” doesn’t announce it—how will the audience know!? ISN’T THAT HIS JOB?) Faith, Britney, and a couple girls we don’t know are left standing. Drumroll …. Adam calls Faith’s name.
Britney flips the f— out. And so does Quinn. And so do I if I’m being honest. (We only get Arielle Kebble for one episode!?) Quinn is mad she lost her villain, but Rachel thinks she can turn it around and make good TV. Britney refuses to give a proper exit interview, so Rachel takes her to some pool chairs to just hang out and take shots. With Dr. Wagerstein’s help, Rachel is able to use some bio ammo—Britney was abandoned! Emancipated! In a psych ward! Twice!—to get the tears flowing.
But then Britney sees that the cameras were hidden and rolling the whole time. She spits on Rachel, yells, “I am completely loveable” to the cameras, and peaces out. On the scale of believability, I think things just plummeted—at least that’s my hope.
With the first episode wrapped, Jeremy’s girlfriend comes to talk to Shia about her first day working on the crew of Everlasting. And Shia jumps at the chance to show her footage of Rachel’s much-talked-about incident. Turns out on the previous season, Rachel had a bit of a meltdown and walked into the filming of the suitor telling his #2 that she wasn’t his #1. She did this while yelling, “This job is Satan’s asshole,” by the way. Love her.
She then jumped in and stole the convertible that the suitor and his winner were supposed to ride away in. In present day, this is the reason she has to continue to do the show for Quinn: Quinn has “taken care of” Rachel’s DUI and GTA charges. (Turns out this means PA Madison is doing community service in Rachel’s place.) So now Rachel just needs to show up to work and do what she does best: get the contestants to do whatever Quinn wants.
With no options left, Rachel takes her bowl full of comfort food and cozies up in front of the monitors, where she can watch the video feeds of all the Everlasting goings-on: Adam covering his camera so Grace can give him a BJ (that’s not wifey material!), Faith sitting outside praying, and Anna purging over the toilet. I think things are about to get even darker.
I personally cannot wait. What do y’all think? Are you willing to stay another week or are you ready to turn in your bracelet?
Most Outrageous Lines (that make me love/hate this show so much):
“Be a good meat puppet and do as I say.” —Quinn
“You’re not hot enough to be crazy.” —Chet
“Go get our show pony.” —Quinn
“Maybe he spotted her super-shrub through that ugly-ass jumpsuit.” —Britney
“I would have to be a sociopath to lie to a 4 year old.” —Rachel