Lifetime's UnREAL, which follows the behind-the-scenes drama of a reality dating competition, began its second season in June full of promise. The show-within-the-show Everlasting introduced its first black suitor (B.J. Britt), Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) were getting the world's coolest BFF tattoos and Madison (Genevieve Buchner) was finally becoming more than the weak-spined girl who sleeps her way to success.
Yet as the season went on, UnREAL's ambitious balancing act began to self-implode. The speed with which UnREAL burns through storylines — which helped give the first season its addicting edge — now makes every twist feel cheap and unearned. The show's desire to subvert tropes has been lost in the din of clichés: a Men's Rights Activist abusing his ex-girlfriend because she doesn't love him anymore, a sexy journalist who will screw over (or just plain screw) anyone to get a story, an agressive career woman realizing she actually does want kids after meeting Mr. Right, to name a few.
We know just how good UnREAL can be from its stellar first season, and we refuse to believe it can't be that good again. Here are 5 ways UnREAL can get back on track.
1. Switch up the format. During Season 1, many fans speculated that the second season would focus on the potential Everlasting spin-off, Royal Renovations. And while that fictional series never actually came to fruition, UnREAL is in desperate need of a fresh twist — and we have a few suggestions.
After two years about Everlasting,with one man choosing between a dozen women, UnREAL could give us a female suitor or even do their own version of Bachelor in Paradise or Bachelor Pad. Either of the latter options would be a lot of fun since it would give UnREAL an excuse to bring back fan-favorite characters from the first two seasons, in addition to introducing previously unseen former contestants. We'd even be fine if Madison's pitch for Everlasting: Exile in Paradise was setting up a third season that's one-part The Bachelor and one-part Survivor.
2. Find a suitor who actually wants to be there. Both Adam (Freddie Stroma) and Darius could be called reluctant suitors, at best. They were each public figures using Everlasting as a means to clean up their image and nothing more.
This redundancy is a huge part of the reason the second season has failed to feel fresh, and they need to shake it up next year. How fun would it be if the suitor was so naïve as to actually think the show would help them meet their soulmate? Or maybe they just want their 15 minutes of fame! Anything except another rich celebrity who thinks they're better than a reality show would be a welcome reprieve.
3. Get Rachel in therapy. We've seen how Rachel's childhood sexual assault has affected her life, often to a disastrous effect. But what UnREAL has yet to explore is how she plans to pick up the pieces and rebuild. If UnREAL really wants to be the progressive feminist drama it portends to be, then it's not enough to show how a woman is traumatized by a rape. You need to show how she survives, heals and doesn't let that trauma define her. Otherwise, it'll just become yet another show that exploits rape for ratings.
4. Let us get to know the contestants more. UnREAL will always be the Rachel and Quinn Show, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't need a well-rounded cast of supporting players. One of the things that made the first season so addicting was how invested we were in the lives of Faith (Breeda Wool), Anna (Johanna Braddy), Mary (Ashley Scott) and even Britney (Arielle Kebbel), despite her incredibly short tenure on the show. Other than Ruby (Denée Benton) and Beth Ann (Lindsay Musil), none of the women vying for Darius' affection feel like developed characters (and even Ruby and Beth Ann come off as cursory caricatures compared to the women of Season 1). And it's not just viewers that feel this way. Darius doesn't even seem to know who all the women in his final four are, recently asking Jameson (Karissa Tynes), "you're the cop, right?"
For UnREAL to fulfill its potential, the contestants need to have interesting storylines and nuanced personalities of their own. If not, the show loses momentum every time there's a scene without Rachel or Quinn in the spotlight.
5. Less soap, more subversion. There's no denying that UnREAL's first season had its over-the-top, soapy moments (think: Mary committing suicide), but this season doubled-down on the ridiculousness with none of the self-reflection that helped raise Season 1 above the typical Lifetime fare (think: Quinn deciding to get pregnant, Rachel's mom covering up her rape, Yael being an undercover reporter — the list goes on).
Nothing encompasses this issue more than how UnREAL handled Romeo (Gentry White) getting shot by police. Although Monday's episode was all about exploring the aftermath of the shooting, we learned near-to-nothing about Romeo's current condition (he doesn't even appear in the episode), nor do we get to see how one of the show's lead characters, Darius, is handling the experience. In fact, not only does Darius cope with his cousin's shooting almost entirely off-screen, he makes what is likely the hardest decision of his life when he gets the back surgery that ultimately ends his football career -- also off-screen!
Rather than use this as an opportunity to comment about what it means to be black in America, it feels as though UnREAL isexploiting the topic for surface-level drama that ultimately focuses on how a black man getting shot by police affects a white woman's mental well-being.
Creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro has been very vocal about how nervous she was to make a season about race as a white woman, and it's unfortunate to watch her good intentions go so awry. But that isn't to say that there's no hope for the show to return to its former glory. Appleby, in particular, continues to deliver riveting performances every week, which help carry the series during even its most lackluster episodes.
There are still so many stories left to tell in the world of UnREAL, and thanks to an early renewal by Lifetime, we'll definitely be getting at least one more season of the Emmy-nominated drama. We can only hope Shapiro knows what to do with it.
UnREAL airs Mondays at 10/9c on Lifetime.