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UnREAL Season 3 Takes a Meta Approach to Course-Correction

And it works!

Liz Raftery

The question on every UnREAL fan's mind ahead of the Season 3 premiere Monday is whether the Lifetime show can possibly redeem itself after its disastrous sophomore outing, which started out promising but took a nosedive in quality that ended with one of the main characters committing murder.

The answer: Yes it can. In fact, based on the first five episodes, which were made available for review, UnREAL is back and better than ever in Season 3. There are a few winking references to the misfires of last season, as show-within-a-show Everlasting is also attempting to rebound from a lackluster outing. "If this goes south like last year, you're fired," Quinn (Constance Zimmer) is told in the season premiere.

The biggest change this season is that the Suitor on Everlasting is now a Suitress. Enter Caitlin FitzGerald (Masters of Sex) as Serena, a whip-smart business woman and feminist who's looking for love and takes a vastly different approach to the show than anyone we've seen on the real Bachelorette or any fictionalized versions of it. The twist of having a female contestant works even better than one anticipated it could. FitzGerald is excellent, and it's a treat to watch Quinn and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) as they're forced to tussle with someone who's on their level and less easily manipulated than the previous participants they've dealt with.

Caitlin FitzGerald, Shiri Appleby, Constance Zimmer, UnREAL
James Dittiger

Serena's presence also allows the show to offer up some killer commentary on modern-day feminism. Serena quickly learns that her poker prowess and self-sufficiency are quite off-putting to most of the men hoping to woo her. And behind the scenes, Quinn and Madison (Genevieve Buechner) clash as the younger Madison uses her sexuality to move up the career ladder. Zimmer continues to be the show's standout, navigating the ups and downs of being a successful woman in the workplace, and trying not to think too hard about the toll her professional success has had on her personal life.

Another addition this season is new on-set psychologist Dr. Simon (Brandon Jay McLaren), who brings a much-needed no-nonsense approach to the set of Everlasting. Like probably most viewers, Dr. Simon is appalled at the type of antics that have previously been commonplace on the show in regards to its contestants, but his real reason for being there is to focus on Rachel. When the season picks up, Rachel has been living on a goat farm, practicing "Essential Honesty" and celibacy in order to heal her spirit after the events of last season. A bombshell revelation about Rachel's past in the first five episodes establishes a nice dynamic between her and Dr. Simon, and sets up an intriguing plotline for the back half of the season.

And yes, that ridiculous car crash from the Season 2 finale is not totally forgotten. Mild spoiler alert: Yael (Monica Barbaro) and Coleman (Michael Rady) really are dead, and Quinn, Rachel, Jeremy (Josh Kelly) and Chet (Craig Bierko) have made a pact to sweep the whole thing under the rug and never speak of it again. But the truth will out, as they say, and as much as UnREAL and its viewers would probably like to pretend that incident ever happened, its repercussions will definitely be felt down the road.

In Season 3, UnREAL has returned to feeling like a drama infused with purpose and importance, but that's also ridiculously fun and entertaining to watch. The show's writers couldn't have known it would be airing at the height of the #MeToo and #TimesUp moment, but real-world headlines make the events on the show seem all the more, well, real.

UnREAL Season 3 kicks off Monday at 10/9c on Lifetime.