Up Next

Television

Football, sex, race, obsession — if you’re not watching ‘UnREAL,’ start

It’s one of the best shows on television, about television

If you missed the first season of UnREAL, the excellent, smartly layered show that pulls back the curtain on what it takes to produce a reality television show like The Bachelor, do yourself a favor and catch up. (The first season is not available on-demand, but it is streaming on Hulu.)

A quick primer: UnREAL is about a show called Everlasting, which is produced by Quinn King (Constance Zimmer) and her trusty deputy Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby). Like The Bachelor, Everlasting is an elimination-style show featuring a group of women vying for one man, the suitor. UnREAL‘s co-creator, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, is an ex-associate producer of The Bachelor. It airs Monday nights on Lifetime.

… judging from the cable networks’ obsession with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, it’s pretty clear that ginning up white anxiety about race is a gold mine.

This season, the Everlasting suitor is Darius Beck (B.J. Britt), the first black quarterback on his professional football team, and the first black suitor on the show. Hill is trying to redeem himself in nine weeks during the offseason after he said, “B—-, please!” as he blew up at a female reporter while on camera. If this seems well, unreal, try to remember the stream of panic that followed after Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was caught on camera with Erin Andrews, loudly panning the playoff performance of opposing wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the 2014 NFC title game. It becomes pretty clear that Darius’ interaction with the fictional reporter in UnREAL takes its inspiration from Sherman and Andrews.

No wonder Quinn and Rachel are salivating at the ratings prospects of having a black suitor. Sure it’s crass and it’s cynical, but can we really say they’re incorrect to expect a numbers bonanza stemming from the country losing its mind over an “unsuitable” black suitor? It temporarily lost the ability to think rationally about Sherman yelling at a white lady on camera. Oh, it’s twisted and Machiavellian and nothing about this sort of thing is remotely ethical, but judging from the cable networks’ obsession with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, it’s pretty clear that ginning up white anxiety about race is a gold mine.

As Quinn says when she’s trying to talk Gary, the network president played by Christopher Cousins, into believing that a black suitor is a good idea, “Hell, yes, he’s going to be dating white chicks. And hopefully he’s going to be making deep, dark, nasty love to them, too. I mean, the more white p—- the better. Am I right, Gary? I promise you 20 million viewers the minute he lays black hands on a white a–.”

Unbeknownst to Darius, who is black, this is one of the women vying for his attention.

Unbeknownst to UnREAL character Darius Beck, who is black, this is one of the women vying for his attention.

courtesy of Lifetime

UnREAL continues in the tradition of exposing the high-wire morass of making television and film, much like Entourage (which also featured Zimmer) and the uproariously funny Episodes. It feeds your suspicions about the television industry, where everyone’s ethics are warped by a pursuit of power and money. In UnREAL, we see how being a woman complicates that pursuit for Quinn, Everlasting’s creator, and Rachel. We find ourselves rooting for Quinn and Rachel and their unhealthy, completely odd, us-against-the-world relationship (they now have matching tattoos), knowing the entire structure is rigged in favor of powerful men and their bromances. There is no meritocracy for the Everlasting girls, or for the women who have made the show wildly successful in the first place.

UnREAL is determined to lay bare the melange of ignorance, racism, good intentions, and just plain old money-grubbing that goes into creating reality television.

Case in point: Quinn’s lecherous ex-fiancé Chet Wilton (Craig Bierko) supposedly loves Quinn, but he loves having the ear of Everlasting‘s network head even more, though he’s done nothing to deserve it. In the first season, we learn that Chet stole Quinn’s idea for Everlasting, then installed her as his employee to make it work. Quinn had to commence legal action just to get 40 percent of what was hers to begin with.

Both HBO’s Ballers and Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse have delved into plots about athletes managing personal crises that quickly turn into public, then professional ones. It’s fertile ground for a television show — just this weekend, Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib was reportedly shot in the leg at a Dallas strip club.

But UnREAL is much darker. This season, UnREAL is determined to lay bare the melange of ignorance, racism, good intentions and just plain old money-grubbing that goes into creating reality television tropes such as the slut, the black b—-, and the wifey, all with a black quarterback at the center of the storm.

Hold on to your hats, people. This ought to be fun.

[protected-iframe id=”59da049911ebb4ebe4d277a18f6e45a9-84028368-104119911″ info=”https://www.mylifetime.com/embed/677761091713″ width=”560″ height=”315″ frameborder=”0″]

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the culture critic for The Undefeated. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts, and literature. She's based in Brooklyn.