Season 2 Of 'UnREAL' Premieres Monday On Lifetime
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Imagine your job is to convince young women to drop everything happening in their lives and go on a reality dating show. You then pretend to be their friend, manipulating them into letting their guard down and revealing their most personal information on national television. And when you make that happen, you are rewarded.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNREAL")
CONSTANCE ZIMMER: (As Quinn King) You get cash bonuses for nudity, 911 calls, catfights, all right? Have a good show, everybody.
MARTIN: That's pretty much that situation that Rachel Goldberg finds herself in. She's the main character on the Lifetime drama "Unreal." Now stay with me because this gets kind of meta. "Unreal" is a fictional, behind-the-scenes look at life on a reality TV dating show. The show is called "Everlasting," which is not unlike the ABC show "The Bachelor." The second season of "Unreal" premieres tomorrow night.
It's co-created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who in real life used to be a producer on "The Bachelor." She got the idea for "Unreal" when she realized she had become, in her words, a monster.
SARAH GERTRUDE SHAPIRO: It was when I was working on "The Bachelor" and I had just done an exit interview with a girl and really, really done something pretty terrible to her. And she ended up calling me and telling me that I had ruined her life. And that was the moment that as a feminist, a dyed-in-the-wool feminist, that I sort of realized I had gone beyond where I (laughter) wanted to go in terms how I was spending my time on Earth and what I was doing.
MARTIN: We should, for the benefit of people who have not seen "The Bachelor" or "Unreal," explore a little bit about what this can look like. And there's a scene in the new season of "Unreal" - when I watched it, my stomach turned a little bit because it illustrates the emotional manipulation.
It's when - there's this young producer who very much wants to be very good at her job, and she is instructed that she needs to conduct an interview with one of the women, the potential brides on the show.
And Rachel, the main character, doesn't trust her to get the job done, so she's doing this "Cyrano De Bergerac" thing, whispering to her, telling her the words to say that will get this woman to cry on camera. That's low and crazy.
SHAPIRO: I'm like, is it? It just seems real (laughter). Yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, "Broadcast News" has always been a big inspiration to me...
MARTIN: ...The movie.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, the movie. And I think that reality TV and the era of reality TV is just that on steroids. I mean, it's just a more extreme and sort of ruthless version of getting what you need to make a television show. And what's really hard is that when there's a market for it and there's a appetite for it, you have to feed the beast. And people want to see girls cry.
I aim to sort of have sympathy for all the characters on this show. And I think that Rachel, as a boss who's training a young employee, is doing what she has to do to get the job done. It's terrible, but it has to be done.
MARTIN: How long did you work on "The Bachelor?"
SHAPIRO: I was on it for three years. And I think I did about nine seasons because they do a lot of seasons back to back.
MARTIN: And why did you stay after you had this epiphany? Or what kept you there? What did you like about it?
SHAPIRO: I actually - I was sort of trapped in a contract, and that's the surface answer. But I think what I liked about it was feeling powerful at a time in my life when I didn't feel very powerful. And I think in your early 20s, for a lot of people it can be hard to define, like, who you are and where you belong. And sort of being a member of this cult, I didn't have to make any decisions. And then I think eventually, when I started feeling really bad about myself, I was getting off on the power of hurting other people.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, that's not cute. Hence the show.
MARTIN: So let's talk about the show "Unreal." This next season of the show is interesting. There's a twist. The suitor - you don't call them bachelors in "Everlasting." They are suitors.
MARTIN: The suitor in this season is a football player named Darius. He is an African-American, and that is a big deal.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNREAL")
CHRISTOPHER COUSINS: (As Gary) He's black.
SHIRI APPLEBY: (As Rachel Goldberg) Yeah, he's the first black...
ZIMMER: (As Quinn King) ...No, he's not that black - all right, Gary? He's, like, football black.
MARTIN: We should say the show "Everlasting" has never had a black suitor. Neither has "The Bachelor." Why is this a plot point that you wanted to explore?
SHAPIRO: It just sort of felt like the best thing we could do with the platform that we had, and also really wonderful for story because we always break story from Rachel and Quinn's point of view first.
MARTIN: We should say Quinn is her partner in crime, kind of her peer-slash-mentor, competitor.
SHAPIRO: Complicated weirdo.
MARTIN: Yeah (laughter).
SHAPIRO: Weird mom, creepy mom, bad mommy, whatever. So it was two things. Like, Eric Garner, I think, was a watershed moment for me in terms of just feeling like racism in this country is out of place right now, that there's hardly anything more pressing to talk about. So I felt really strongly about doing it.
But happily, it also worked really well for the narrative for Rachel because I think where she's at is that she needs to try and feel like her life means something. And so she is - on the show, Rachel is responsible for casting Darius.
And she's doing a lot of self-congratulation and patting herself on the back and in a very, like, white lady, liberal way. It's a conversation that I was interested in having in terms of sort of liberal self-congratulation and white guilt.
MARTIN: Let's explore a little bit the relationship between Rachel and Quinn because they love each other, they hate each other, they got matching tattoos...
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Oh my God, the tattoo.
MARTIN: ...That are semi-profane. What is interesting to you about this particular female relationship?
SHAPIRO: Well, you know, as a woman who's sort of a workaholic and also an overachiever, I feel like I've spent most of my life at work. And I just don't see a lot of those relationships talked about on TV - like, women really talking about their jobs and their relationships with other women at work.
And I - it's interesting, in season two we had a couple new writers come in and I kind of had to figure out a rule of thumb to help calibrate some of - the way the dialogue is written for these characters. And the reference that I found that worked the best was saying, just make sure you write them like Jesse and Walt from "Breaking Bad"...
SHAPIRO: ...As opposed to Sabrina and Blair from "Gossip Girl." And when I took apart that rule of thumb and was like, what is it that I'm really saying, I'm just saying that, like, the things that Quinn and Rachel talk about are power, efficacy, strategy, winning. They don't trade in emotion, and they don't talk about guys. I mean, if they talk about them it's just sort of like a passing...
MARTIN: ...Objectifying, yeah.
MARTIN: Who's a guy on the show who you like and respect, a character?
SHAPIRO: I love the producer Jay, one of the black producers on the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNREAL ")
JEFFREY BOWYER-CHAPMAN: (As Jay) I didn't think I had a line. But it turns out derailing a strong black woman's education, that's it.
APPLEBY: (As Rachel Goldberg) Seriously, we're making a huge statement just by having a black suitor. So if we have to sacrifice a few people along the way for the greater good, so be it.
BOWYER-CHAPMAN: (As Jay) Yeah, you are right. We're like the Aztecs or Hitler.
MARTIN: Is he the moral center?
SHAPIRO: You know, in season two I think he kind of is. He's hitting a glass ceiling. And one of his big frustrations is that Rachel is rising through the ranks like helium and he just keeps staying exactly where he is. And another sort of idea that I'm pretty fascinated with is just the way that racism and sexism perpetuates itself, like, because people tend to relate to and promote people that look like them or feel like them.
And especially with Rachel coming in with a black suitor and taking all the credit for it and then mangling it terribly, it's a really rich place to play this year because Jay sort of has found his line in the sand ethically. And he is a little bit the moral center of the show this year.
MARTIN: Do believe in true love?
SHAPIRO: Oh my God, I totally do believe in true love.
MARTIN: You do?
SHAPIRO: I am, like, a ridiculous romantic. I, like, read Edith Wharton. I totally believe in love. I believe in humanity. I believe in hope and all of these things. But I think I also just have had some pretty eye-opening experiences in the world, and I think that our show tries to take a look at things with pretty open eyes.
MARTIN: Sarah Gertrude Shapiro is the co-creator of "Unreal." Sarah, thanks so much for talking with us.
SHAPIRO: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.