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Review: ‘UnREAL’ Season 2 Premiere Makes History

Quinn goes to war and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) aims to make history — no matter the cost.

"UnREAL" Season 2 Episode 1 Shiri Appleby & Constance Zimmer

Sergei Bachlakov/A&E Television

This Week on ‘UnREAL’…

And we’re back! After a year-long break, “UnREAL” is back on the air and “Everlasting” is back in production. With Quinn (Constance Zimmer) as the new Chet (Craig Bierko) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) as the new Quinn, things have certainly progressed, but the true changes came — as they always do — from within.

Sure, Rachel and Quinn got badass matching wrist tattoos that serve as permanent reminders of their priorites — “Money, Dick, Power,” of course — but the most surprising alteration came from Rachel embracing the ruthless nature of her profession. Her questionable demands as the new boss were as shocking to viewers as her peers, and Quinn is only going to encourage her little mini-me to get nastier in their constant quest for ratings.

Not that they need to push all that hard. With a pro football player onboard — who also happens to be the first black suitor — and a bevy of volatile competitors vying for his attention, “Everlasting” Season 14 is set to be one wild ride. Assuming, that is, that they can find their suitor. After Rachel got distracted while tending to a flustered Madison (Genevieve Buechner) — which exposed just how far down the rabbit hole Rachel is willing to go — Darius Beck (B.J. Britt) escaped with Chet, who demanded a few things related to his newfound masculinity before allowing the first day of shooting to commence.

While the upcoming Quinn v. Chet throwdown earned its tantalizing tease, what’s really at the heart of “UnREAL” Season 2 is the cold war between Quinn and Rachel. The new showrunner lost control of her set after the Darius/Chet debacle, and Quinn, the master manipulator, is already pushing Rachel to new extremes — even as she’s already going there on her own. Part 1, “War,” set the table for far more than what’s to come in week two, but the fate of everyone involved may come down to whether or not Quinn and Rachel’s bond is as permanent as those tattoos.

How’s Rachel Doing?

rachel-is-sad-orange UnREAL Season 2 Rachel Orange
Not only is it hard being Rachel, it’s got to be hard to play Rachel. Shiri Appleby has to keep her emotions at such a consistently high peak, it’s as if her character is about to burst into tears every other scene. And each drop would be well-deserved, considering just how rough this over-burdened producer has it.

So, to keep track of how close she is to exploding — aka, “Satan’s Asshole” Rachel, who goes on live TV and goes H.A.M. on her job — we’ve created The Rachel Goldberg Scale of Emotional Devastation. As illustrated above, green is Good Rachel. She’s cool, calm and maybe even happy. Yellow represents a warning light, as Rachel is edging closer and closer to freaking out, but she’s still got things (relatively) under control.

This week’s color is orange, as Rachel seems to be right at the precipice of disaster. From doing coke in a Vegas hotel room to verbally abusing Madison to breaking down twice over Hot Rachel, the real Rachel (who, for the record, should always be considered the “Hot Rachel,” no matter the comparison) is living on the edge. Will she go full “Satan’s Asshole” next week? We can’t wait to find out.

Quinn’s Quip of the Week

“If we fired everyone we had sex with, we wouldn’t have a crew.”

Quinn was in fine form right out of the gate, throwing out a couple of whoppers during a morning-after conference call and later taking back the set in fiery fashion. But nothing topped her frank advice to Rachel after she was first informed of “Hot Rachel.” Quinn owns her decisions in a way Rachel is working toward, and — no matter how scary they’ve become — these two are starting to look more and more alike themselves.

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

"UnREAL" Season 2 Episode 1 Shiri Appleby & Constance Zimmer
Rachel may not be able to fire everyone she sleeps with, but she can fire someone who — as she so beautifully put it — acts like a “sexist man baby.” It’s not so much that feminism means standing up for women, specifically — though they were, and often are, the offended party — it’s that she’s standing up for those without a voice; the put-upon silent minority. Both the women on the requested list and anyone offended by the sexist comments but afraid to speak up were in need of her authoritative voice, and she delivered in a big way. The decision may not have meant much to Quinn, but that was the best thing Rachel did this week — a pretty big win for a rookie showrunner.

Stealthy Repurposing

"UnREAL" Season 2 Shiri Appleby
Describing “bitch, please” as a “term of endearment” may be a stretch, especially given Darius’ angry inflection, but “UnREAL” used its premiere episode to showcase the acceptable and unacceptable applications of the term. After all, Quinn was right in describing as an affectionate label when used between two women who own the word rather than are owned by it. Both she and Rachel shared it as a badge of honor, especially after we heard its gross utilization after Rachel fired a sexist focus puller.

As she walked away — after dropping the mic with the aforementioned, “It turns out being a sexist man baby on my set has consequences” — Rachel could hear the met muttering “bitch” over and over again, directly referencing a woman who made a strong, progressive decision and was judged harshly for it by a less than understanding group of men. Because she has to put up with shit like that — or had to — she gets to use “bitch” however she damn well pleases, namely with Quinn, who’s had the negative connotation of the word tossed her way a few too many times as well.

Top of the Call Sheet (Episode MVP)

Josh Kelly & Craig Bierko in "UnREAL" Season 2 Episode 2
As much as we’re made to hate the new Chet and his uber, Paleo-influenced masculinity, Bierko’s performance as this just-the-wrong-side-of-bonkers mega producer has never been more compelling, nor has the character been better utilized. By turning Chet into not only the enemy, but a hyper-macho example of the patriarchy gone horrifically awry, “UnREAL” co-creator and showrunner Sarah Shapiro has created the ideal literal and figurative opponent for Quinn and Rachel.

Because of how Chet treated Quinn last season, we already disliked him, and we still would have disliked him had he come back the same man to steal her show this year. Yet now, thanks to his retreat, he’s not only got last year’s baggage but now he also believes that a generation of men have somehow been emasculated by feminism. And considering how aggressively and amazingly feminist “UnREAL” is, how could you dream of a better antagonist than a familiar face turned to the dark side? This is one war we can’t wait to see explode.

The Real Behind the Reality

"UnREAL" Season 2 Josh Kelly & Genevieve Buechner premiere
One of the many great things “UnREAL” Season 1 did well was constructing fresh narratives emphasizing how not to act. By illustrating the ugliest sides of reality TV (and its creators), Sarah Shapiro’s series warned of the genre’s dangers for those on both sides of the camera. We saw, first-hand, how bad behavior can be made to look innocent, and, in doing so,”UnREAL” implicated the audience as much as the producers for the needless suffering associated with reality TV.

Season 2 leapt right back into that arena with Rachel’s play-by-play coaching of Madison. Asked to get a juicy soundbite for a promo spot, the young (if not all that innocent) Madison didn’t seem up to the challenge until Rachel got in her ear. Her manipulation by avatar helped distance Rachel from the guilt associated with mining emotions, and it reminded viewers of the power screens have over us. Sure, they show us worlds we’d never have access to otherwise, but they can also suck you into associating with ideas and ideals you’d normally know better than to come anywhere near.

While Madison’s reaction was interesting — after throwing up, she claimed the experience was “amazing” — it’s Rachel’s active encouragement to go places she herself balked at a year ago that prove troublesome. Those control room screens are her world, as Quinn pointed out, but she’s using a good cause — “making history” with the first black suitor — to justify bad things. Don’t let the same thing happen to you: Keep it on “UnREAL,” and off “The Bachelor.”

Grade: A-

“UnREAL” airs Monday nights at 10pm on Lifetime. Season 1 is streaming on Hulu. 

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