As well as being a smart, savage indictment of certain aspects of the reality tv industry, Unreal is also, unapologetically, a soap opera. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when it’s a soap opera as provocative and engrossing as this one.
This week, Chet and Quinn’s relationship descends into all-out warfare, with Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Bill one of the walking wounded. Bill is a little unbelievable, to be honest – years after Chet stole his and Quinn’s idea for the show, and Quinn ditched Bill to follow Chet and the idea, Bill picks up Quinn’s call on the first ring and jumps at the chance of a date that night? Dude. Accepting that this handsome, intelligent man is not only super-forgiving, super-into Quinn and readily available is a bit of a stretch, especially on Unreal, where everybody has an angle.
Quinn’s love life isn’t the only one getting messy, though – Adam has a very busy week, romantically. A tabloid reveals he has been texting his ex from the set mansion, to both Quinn and Rachel’s fury, although Quinn and Rachel each have very different reasons for being quite so angry. Rachel may pretend it’s all about the show but her growing attraction to Adam is impossible to hide, even as she’s setting him up for exposure and vilification by the contestants – via a fantastically devious move, kudos Rachel – her feelings for him are obvious. Especially to judgemental Jeremy who may well be right about this but is still annoying.
Adam proves almost as skilled at manipulating the girls as Rachel though, and her pride at her protege’s skill, combined with yearning for him, is written all over her face for much of the episode, the most obvious moment being when filming moves to Adam’s ramshackle vineyard; there’s a scene where she tells him she needs him to kiss one of the contestants and when she describes how she wants that kiss to be (in a series of lines so intense I wouldn’t be able to type them, let alone say them out loud, without blushing), it’s clear it’s not really the contestant she wants him to kiss.
While I’m busy shipping Adam and Rachel, though , Adam (and Rachel) are busy trying to secure investors for the vineyard, which culminates in Adam literally prostituting himself with an investor’s wife for Chet and his friend’s entertainment; a horribly seedy scene that’s shocking and difficult to watch. Perhaps even more shocking though is Adam’s unconcerned, utterly matter-of-fact, “did what I had to do” attitude about it to Rachel afterwards. When she is less than impressed, he bites back “At least Kelly enjoyed herself, which is more than I can say for the people you screw.” Ouch.
In some ways, then, this is an even bleaker episode than last week’s, with nobody coming out of it smelling of rosé. I think I’ve said it before, but Unreal’s portrayal of the majority of its characters (including the nominal heroine and hero) as venal, manipulative and generally terrible people is brave for any channel, let alone Lifetime. The fact that, despite that, most of them (except maybe Chet who is irredeemably vile) are completely watchable, often likeable and never less than intriguing is almost miraculous.