In Lifetime's UnREAL, Rachel (Shiri Appleby) and Quinn (Constance Zimmer) make their living exploiting the myth of fairy tale romance to produce the reality dating show, Everlasting. But while the producers take great pains to construct a contrived artifice of romance, that doesn't mean UnREAL presents a completely cynical view on love; it just focuses on a love rarely seen on TV - that between two ambitious, relentlessly complex women.
"We always say [Quinn and Rachel are] the couple. They're each other's soul mates," UnREAL creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro tells TVGuide.com.
This is a unique approach on television, which most often places female friendships subsidiary to the romantic relationships (Parks and Recreation, Veronica Mars), or portrays them as a rosy-eyed ya-ya sisterhood of two girls against the world (Broad City, Playing House). That is, when a show highlights female friendships at all.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule (Orange Is the New Black), but no show comes close to matching the complexities of Rachel and Quinn's ride-or-die toxic relationship, which quickly established them as UnREAL's reigning, albeit dysfunctional, OTP.
Even when Shapiro first pitched the show to Lifetime, it was Rachel's relationship with her boss Quinn - not her forbidden romance with the Everlasting suitor Adam (Freddie Stroma) - that was the hook. "I had no idea it was that revolutionary," Shapiro recalls. "It's so true to life for me. It's so true to how it is to actually be a working woman, that I didn't even think twice about it. But I guess it just hasn't really been done before, in terms of spending that much time with women whose main relationship is about work . Unless they're cops," she adds.
But with Quinn and Rachel, it's impossible to extricate their relationship from their work, because work is who they are. "Money. Dick. Power." That's the mantra the pair get tattooed on their wrists in the Season 2 premiere. However, with so many obstacles in the way of women succeeding in the work place - a fact UnREAL reminds viewers of every time the network sides with Chet (Craig Bierko) over Quinn - women often see each other as competition rather than allies. It's these two opposing instincts that Rachel and Quinn are constantly struggling to reconcile in their friendship, which is what makes their relationship so fascinating to watch - and so hard for other characters to understand.
"It's funny for me, as new writers come onto the show and people come into our world, I've had to find shorthand for talking about their relationship, and the best shorthand that I've found is just to say: 'We have to write them like Walt and Jesse from Breaking Bad and not Serena and Blair on Gossip Girl.' They're not ever talking about boys or their hair or hurt feelings. They're talking about strategy and power and how to get money and how to do things," Shapiro explains.
And much like Walt and Jesse, she notes, Rachel and Quinn's relationship goes through highs and lows, because that's just the nature of their mentorship. "I think the way that you go from being in a power struggle to getting matching tattoos is that you're comrades, you're brothers in arms, you're mentor-mentee ...They're family, so their bond is thicker than any argument."
Although, once Quinn discovers Rachel went behind her back to Gary (Christopher Cousins), it'll be a hard betrayal to bounce back from. Because while Rachel forgave Quinn blowing up her happily-ever-after with Adam, she can't rely on any altruistic excuses to ease the eventual blow when the truth hits Quinn. But Shapiro ensures us that there's truly nothing in this world that these two can't overcome.
"Ultimately, they can't really stay away for long."
UnREAL airs Mondays at 10/9c on Lifetime.