An ex-“Bachelor” producer, a graduate “Buffy
the Vampire Slayer” writer and the perpetually haggard Shiri Appleby are
the brilliant makings of Lifetime’s dark and delicious “UnREAL,”
whose trailblazing first season is set to come to a close Monday night. [Spoilers through Episode 9 of Season 1 below.]
Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Noxon’s vicious satire of a reality TV dating competition quickly proved, over the course of its first season, that it wouldn’t be pulling punches,
demonstrating right off the bat that it wasn’t afraid to exploit the ways people
exploit each other for personal gain. It would draw the ire of
“Bachelor” host Chris Harrison, whose comments about how terrible he
believed the show to be actually flattered Noxon: “I was super excited. I
was like, ‘Oh my god, he said something about us!'”
Last week, fans were treated to an evening with the cast
and crew of the hit summer drama at the Paley Center for a special panel and sneak screening
of the Season 1 finale, which picks up immediately after Faith’s departure (“I totally would have been the
best beard ever!” joked Breeda Wool) and Adam’s proposal to run away with Rachel — just before having to propose to one of the bachelorettes.
The panel also celebrated “UnREAL’s” second season renewal with a hint of what the writers would have in store for next year — namely that the show would remain with “Everlasting” as their backdrop.
Shiri Appleby (Rachel Goldberg), Constance Zimmer (Quinn
King), Craig Bierko (Chet Wilton), Freddie Stroma (Adam Cromwell), Josh Kelly
(Jeremy Caner) and co-creators Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro attended the 45-minute Q&A,
moderated by BuzzFeed News senior editor Jarett Wieselman.
Noxon and Shapiro helmed the mic for most of Wieselman’s
questions, giving some backstory on how far ahead they had planned — the
co-creators had to pitch the entire season in one go — and on where
the series is set to go next season, especially looking back on the precedent
they’ve set for themselves.
Shapiro was nothing short of excited for what was in store: “It’s kind of like extreme sports
are some of the panel highlights:
The Pilot Embodies
One of the most memorable scenes in the entire series takes
place in the pilot, where we’re given a taste of Rachel’s ability to manipulate
others as she, with ease, exploits Mary’s past as a battered woman for the sake
of better footage. When Mary heads off to approach Adam, we get a glimpse of the toll such a deplorable move — added to
years and years of others like it — has taken on Rachel.
Wieselman went on to admit how that was the moment he got hooked.
“That was the scene Sarah and I talked about recently,
that I felt really embodied what the show was about,” Appleby responded. “It
felt like a play. And we were so in it that the tear honestly came out, and
when I saw the cut, I was like, ‘This is what the show is about.'”
Rachel Was Always Going To Have To Watch Adam Propose To Someone Else
“UnREAL” never shies away from presenting
audiences with a look into how cutthroat the reality behind producing reality is,
showing us not just Rachel’s actions, but those of her co-producers. Yet,
Rachel shines above the rest in her raw talent.
Rachel’s mindset with the idea that she’s just doing her job the best way she
can. “The truth is these producers are asked to do some pretty heinous
things, and at the same time we can see that she’s struggling with it and so
that’s what also makes her relatable. Some of us have jobs we hate and aren’t
proud of, but we got to do them.”
Still, Rachel’s actions are not without personal consequence.
“She’s really a woman that’s at a crossroads in her life,” said
Appleby. “She doesn’t really have any direction, she doesn’t have any
family or friends or any other opportunity other than this. She happens to be
really good at doing something that kills her on the inside.”
Noxon and Shapiro have only brought her lower and lower with
every episode, and perhaps closer to the breakdown that put Rachel at the rock
bottom that we first see her trying to move up from in the pilot.
“We were talking about that one thing we were always
driving toward, was this Walter White moment,” said Shapiro of where we’d
see Rachel in the finale. “And we had really talked about, no matter what,
Rachel has to sit there and watch Adam propose to somebody else. And we had
talked about many, many variations of that […] just the Satan in her eyes,
and the flames in her soul.”
“She was going to go full dragon,” added Noxon.
“Full dragon,” Shapiro agreed.
Relatability Trumps Likability
Part of what makes “UnREAL” so compelling is how the salacious, scandalous qualities of reality TV are explored and maybe even exacerbated by characters we don’t necessarily like, but can
almost certainly relate to on some level.
“I think that one of the great things about being able
to do a show like this right now is that, we didn’t have to protect her more
than you would any other anti-hero character,” said Noxon of how much (or
little) Rachel’s likability played into the writing process. “Any good,
sympathetic bad guy has a good backstory, so wanted people to understand why
Rachel is the way she is.”
was never quite concerned about whether people liked Quinn but on whether
people understood her: “There definitely were many conversations about
making sure that Quinn was relatable — not necessarily likable, because that’s
not really what we care about. It was more about being relatable, and making
sure that she’s a person.”
Part of that involved letting Quinn drop “pussy” as an insult. “I remember we had
about, there was a line that was the ‘pussy’ line, in the pilot,” said
Zimmer added: “I
really fought for that.”
Quinn and Rachel Are The Real Love Story
Shapiro also spoke about the show’s foundation: “I think Marti and I have
always talked about Rachel and Quinn are the primary. They’re the love story, they’re everything.”
“UnREAL” doesn’t place too much focus on its
characters’ romantic lives and instead finds its heart in the vitriolic, but
ultimately loving relationship between Quinn and Rachel.
“The starting point is Quinn
and Rachel. We write the story starting with Quinn and Rachel, and the
‘Everlasting’ story, the reality TV stuff, serves their theme,” said
“The most important thing is to keep a sense that there’s a reality to it.”
So said Noxon on keeping the show grounded moving forward. “UnREAL” earned itself a
10-episode second season earlier this month, providing Shapiro and Noxon with the
opportunity to definitively talk about where they envision taking the show
“Every season we can just
grow,” said Shapiro. “The problem has never been, ‘What is the
story?’ The problem has been focusing the story, keeping it grounded on Quinn
and Rachel, because there are a million places we could go.”
“UnREAL” airs Mondays at 10pm on Lifetime. Catch
the season finale on Monday, August 3 and take a peek below at some clips teasing
what’s to come.