What really goes on behind the scenes of reality dating shows? 

Lifetime’s new series, UnREAL, breaks down that wall and takes viewers on journey that’s fresh, yet very dark. The outcome will be smarter reality viewers who now will question every tear, laugh and breakdown on shows like the Bachelor and Bachelorette.

Confession: I’m not a reality television watcher. I’ve only seen snipets of the Bachelor or Bachelorette over the seasons, though I did watch For Love or Money the first season over a decade ago. Despite that (or maybe because of it?), I’m addicted to UnREAL. Lifetime sent the first three episodes for review and I watched them all in one sitting.

UnREAL takes viewers behind the scenes the fictional reality series Everlasting with suitor, Adam Cromwell (Freddie Stroma), the British heir to a hotel chain who’s hesitant to participate at first, but then convinced it’s in his best interest. 

He gets to pick a winner from a wide range of woman who were selected not necessarily to be a good fit for him, but specifically to fill the roles needed to make good television by the show’s producers. 

While the manipulation of the contestants and the suitor shouldn’t come as a surprise, the extremes to which the show’s executive producer, Quinn (Constance Zimmer) is willing to go is both eye-opening and jaw-dropping. And perhaps even worse than what she does to the contestants is what she does to her must-have producer.

Rachel (Shiri Appleby) is Quinn’s go-to person. Despite having a mental breakdown the previous season of Everlasting, Quinn brings Rachel back because she’s that good. It’s clear that without Rachel’s mad manipulation skills, the show wouldn’t be the success that it is.

A highlight of the series is watching Appleby portray this woman who is psychologically on the edge of losing it, conflicted about what she’s doing to the contestants, yet pushes through anyway to get the job done.

Does Rachel do it because she likes it? Is it because she’s been forced to stay due to her circumstances? Or is it because she doesn’t know anything else? Through the first three episodes, the reasons get more complex rather than clearer. And while Rachel stays and does her magic, she secretly plays her own game.

The behind-the-scenes manipulations are devoid of any sense of moral line. Even the therapist is used to find people’s weak spots to be twisted to make good television rather than to watch out for the emotional well-being of the contestants. 

UnREAL is a distressing show to watch which creates a unique and powerful viewing experience. The hurt inflicted on these people for the sake of good drama brings with it moral quandaries and insight.

As a fictionalized version of the Bachelor(ette), it’s a safe to enjoy because no real people were hurt for the viewing public’s enjoyment. Though, UnREAL will likely change the way viewers see and interpret actual reality shows. People are hurt and for what? Entertainment and money. Is it worth it? 

In the end, I guess it depends on your sense of enjoyment. I don’t like watching real boxing or MMA fights because I don’t derive enjoyment from watching the fighters getting hurt and always fear they will end up dead by the end of the match. 

At the same time, I love movies and television shows about fighters like Audience Network’s Kingdom. I enjoy those fights because I know it’s not real and that the actors won’t really be hurt. It’s scripted versus real fights when anything could happen.

On UnREAL, the truth behind reality dating shows comes out. The girls are controlled. The guy is played. And it’s all in order to manipulate the Everlasting viewers into believing the drama and turmoil created on the show is organic. 

I’ve never been emotionally invested and disturbed at the same time as I was watching UnREAL. It’s a horror show that instead of scaring through the fear of death, it frightens by how far across the line will the producers go to make the drama happen.

Will you be tuning in? Check out the first 9 minutes of the premiere now!

UnREAL premieres Monday, June 1 at 10pm ET on Lifetime

(Image courtesy of Lifetime.)

Carla Day

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Contributing Editor and Writer for Collider, BuddyTV, TV Fanatic, CliqueClack, and other publications. TV criticism, reviews, interviews with actors and producers, and other related content. Founder of TV Diehard.