Review: Why ‘UnREAL’ has gone off the rails in season 2

Senior Television Writer
07.19.16 45 Comments

A few thoughts on last night's UnREAL – and the unfortunate path the show has taken since a promising start to season 2 – coming up just as soon as you stop by my office in five minutes…

On paper, last night's UnREAL couldn't have been more unfortunately timely, as the story featured a black man getting shot by cops after being pulled over. In execution, though, the Romeo incident typified season 2 as a whole: just another crazy thing that happened without the proper setup or fallout.

In that initial review of the season, I alluded to the introduction of Coleman as the one disheartening aspect of those first two episodes. Not only has Michael Rady never been particularly interesting in the previous shows I'd seen him on, but the network putting Coleman in charge of Everlasting, after only one episode of the Chet vs. Quinn dynamic, which itself came right after only one episode of the new Quinn/Rachel dynamic, suggested a show that couldn't stop itself from adding more characters, more storylines, and more conflict, even though it already had plenty to spare. There was probably at least a half-season just in Rachel dealing with being the new Quinn, and Quinn being the new Chet, and that was tossed aside almost instantly for something new, which was itself abandoned for something else, and on and on. Crazy things keep happening because someone – whether Lifetime execs or  Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who directed last night's episode, and is running the show on her own this season after Marti Noxon's departure – has decided that this is UnREAL's brand, and if they can't keep finding ways to top themselves, people will lose interest.

But everything keeps happening so quickly, and without any proper dramatic foundation, that none of it matters at all. Darius has barely even registered as a character, and it's telling that once the episode cuts away from the shooting scene, we don't see him again. His reaction to his cousin getting shot ultimately is irrelevant to what the show is really interested in: the battle for control of Everlasting, the Rachel/Coleman/Adam triangle, and Rachel's deteriorating mental health. Those could all be fine subjects for the show to be interested in – the last one, and what Shiri Appleby has been doing with it, is basically the only part of the season of late that feels up to the standards of what the show did a year ago – but doing a Black Lives Matter story as a throwaway to fuel the ongoing conflicts at the show is just in bad taste. Either explore the idea thoroughly in this fictional context – including a whole lot more legal/public aftermath from the incident, from Darius's reaction to the cops confiscating all of Rachel's precious footage as evidence – or don't do it at all.

Pat Riley once coined the phrase “the Disease of More” to refer to the way that, after a winning season, players on a team can start looking out for themselves (seeking more points, more money, etc.) rather than each other. But TV shows can suffer a similar Disease of More, where they keep trying to top the things they've done before, piling incident on top of incident until it's all numbing. When everything is shocking, nothing is, and when nothing is properly set up, everything feels flimsy. It feels like someone looked at Mary's death last season – probably that year's shakiest moment – and decided, “Okay, that's our show.”

I was really happy when Constance Zimmer and the series' pilot script got Emmy nominations last week. Season 1 was a genuinely great season of TV. But the current one has me very worried.

What did everybody else think? Do you feel like the shooting incident was earned, or awkward? Have you found any of the new characters interesting? Are you enjoying the season or worried that the whole concept might have been better off as one season and out?

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