There was a two-year span where my television diet consisted of Bravo and CNN. I’d gorge on Shahs of Sunset and wash it down with Larry King Live. I balanced the guilt of watching Bravolebrities shatter champagne flutes and wallow in wealth with weighty news features on the 24-hour news network. These years were just a breath before the era of Too Much TV, when Shonda only produced two shows and Breaking Bad was in its infancy. The sky was falling. The Chicken Littles of the media industry held reality tv liable for our society’s eventual ruin. And I bought into that notion by puking up the remains of my Bravo diet, save for The Real Housewives of New York. It’d be uncool to break loose of The Countess, after all. Reality TV has been a thing since The Real World. Scratch that, since 1971’s An American Family, wherein filmmakers followed the daily lives of an affluent Santa Barbara family. With cameras rolling, the beaming family fractured under the weight of the father’s infidelity and fallout from the divorce.
But the genre reached its zenith during the Recession, attached to the low price tag of herding in unknowns and casting them into an assortment of situations, some contrived and others seemingly authentic. In that time, Kardashian became a part of the cultural lexicon, Flava Flav reemerged, and there were enough spouse swapping shows to make a polygamist sweat. In time, the economy recovered and the television industry along with it.
Enter Lifetime’s UnReal. Plopped into a sea of campy television movies and unauthorized biopics, the network’s bright spot is a fictionalized tale of the behind the scenes antics of a Bachelor-inspired reality show, Everlasting. The show comments on the dynamics of female relationships in the workplace, mental health, and the seedy practices of industry executives. UnReal is what television audiences deserve after years of peering into family disputes, rooting for alliances and bemoaning villains by water coolers. As the show’s fictional producers steer emotion and confession, UnReal attempts to muddy any remaining pretense amongst reality show viewers, casting away any notion that what you see is in fact, what you get.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever hit the clicker on The Real Housewives of New York. But, UnReal has cast a fascinating light on the manipulation that takes place behind the scenes and now I’m certainly more discerning of a Ramonacoaster when its in motion.