After a wildly uneven second season, UnREAL returned for its delayed third outing, which, thankfully, was a pretty good return to form. This time around it’s a version of The Bachelorette, with Caitlin Fitzgerald (making the TV rounds after Masters of Sex and Rectify) coming onboard as the “suitress” instead of the usual suitor, and a whole bunch of guys vying for her attention.
The second season veered off course with most of the criticism aimed at white female writers who were labeled as overreaching in trying to tackle racism head on and getting caught up in a trainwreck of storytelling decisions. This time I think the best move they made was letting the politics speak for itself (Fitzgerald’s Serena is a successful, perpetually single businesswoman and feminist who can’t get a guy to stick around, which Rachel and Quinn can’t help but feel in their respective guts), while simply refocusing on their main characters’ personal dramas. Rachel, Quinn, Chet, Jay, Madison, Jeremy, etc. That’s where the heart (if there is any on this hardhearted cynical show) is.
So with men competing to win Serena’s hand, the always unstable Rachel is tasked with producing the suitress, and this time she does her actual job the best we’ve seen her do so far, since she does identify with Serena’s plight and genuinely wants to help her pick a good guy, but as usual her personal behavior enters the fray, as she confronts her mother and deals with latent daddy issues, while interacting with the new in-house psychiatrist (Brandon Jay McLaren), and attempting to fend off Jeremy, who for some reason remains on the show despite his murderous and abusive actions last year (seriously, he’s the one weak link in the cast- can’t we get rid of him already?)
Meanwhile in Quinn-land, her empire is waiting to be built, which involves taking down network head Gary and manipulating various principles behind the scenes to do it, including a new character and fellow producing titan Fiona (Tracie Thoms), but her machinations eventually bring her back to the lovelorn Chet (Craig Bierko), who remains an affable doofus devoted to her until the end, which is ultimately rather sweet (again, if there can be anything resembling sweetness on a show like this).
Watching the behind the scenes antics of reality shows remains fun and engaging, although it still bugs me that Everlasting is filmed in real time, Big Brother-style, rather than pre-taped over a six to eight week period, as The Bachelor actually does it. Why can’t they do that again? But refocusing on the show within the show rather than trying to tackle too many hot topics at once is a huge improvement over last year, and perhaps the biggest one of all is with the pacing, which has been my pet peeve since the first season. Finally, it doesn’t feel like too many plot twists are happening every episode! Even the juiciest soaps need to take a breather once in a while. I think think one or two turns per week (rather than four or five) is enough to keep fun trash like this plenty fun enough.