Natalie Rivera
July 20, 2015 6:15 am

The most compelling show of the summer is one you might not have even heard about. UnREAL, which premiered last month, has become a critical favorite thanks to the show’s dark, gossipy look at the behind-the-scenes world of reality television.

UnREAL follows the fictional, Bachelor-esque reality show Everlasting, but it looks beyond the sparkly surface and into the ways that producers and other forces manipulate the way “reality” on those shows operates. The co-creator of the show, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, was a producer of the Bachelor for nine seasons, so she knows a thing or two.

The season finale is set for July 27, and though we’re devastated this great season is already coming to an end (and delighted that it’s already been renewed for another one), we can’t help but jump to the idea of having an excuse to binge-watch the whole season before the anticipated finale. So here’s why you should binge-watch UnREAL before then—whether you’re already a fan or itching to check it out, we assure you UnREAL is definitely worth sacrificing a few hours over.

Shiri Appleby is completely fantastic as conflicted producer Rachel

You might recognize Shiri Appleby from Girls (she was Adam’s brief girlfriend Natasha). Here, she portrays Rachel, a young producer of Everlasting who has a talent for manipulation. Rachel’s time with the faux reality show has a dark past, which includes an on-camera breakdown that still haunts her. Though she wears a “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt when you first meet Rachel in the pilot, her knack for turning the contestants on each other for the benefit of higher ratings has a distinctly un-feminist bent to it. Appleby’s performance as someone working a job that she not-so-secretly loathes is devastatingly good.

The drama is so juicy

Though the producers of UnREAL are orchestrating most of the drama in Everlasting, the actual drama behind the scenes would be enough to fill a series of Lifetime movies. Contestants like Anna, who struggles with an eating disorder, and Faith, who’s struggling with her identity, will have you invested in these characters. But it’s the way that the producer characters manipulate those struggles that really causes tension, all in the name of good television. Which, by the way: This is.

It’s brutally honest

In the very first moments of the first episode, one of the gorgeous contestants steps out of the carriage, timed to be “wife material.” One thing? She’s black. And the producers have a problem with that. Not because they’re against her but because she won’t play well with the audience. “It’s not my fault America’s racist,” says Rachel’s boss, Quinn, played to icy perfection by Constance Zimmer. Yeah, that…is rough.The show doesn’t shy away from big thorny topic like that: not just race, but mental illness and agism. It’ll really make you question what we are looking at when we watch reality television, even if the account is fictional.

You’re still kind of watching a dating show, but better

Though the premise of UnREAL goes beyond the group dates and elimination process that comes with dating shows, you’re still kind of watching a dating show that will have you rooting for your favorite contestant. Some of Everlasting’s cliff hangers are easily predicted early in the episodes, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t feel your stomach turn as you wait for who the suitor, Adam, will give a diamond bracelet (an ode to the Bachelor’s roses) next. So if you are a fan of the classic 20 women hoping to win the love of the charming suitor kind of dating shows, then you get not only the behind-the-scenes drama but also the actual Everlasting drama. Talk about a win-win.

It will change the way you watch reality television forever

UnREAL is anything but unreal: It’s an interesting, dark look at the machine behind the reality show industry, and it’ll make you really think about the way that things on-screen are edited together to look a certain way. It lifts the curtain to show a fictionalized version of the entertainment industry, and it’s incredibly entertaining, too. Doesn’t that sound like the perfect summer show? Yep. It is.

Related:

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What American TV taught me about America

[Image courtesy Lifetime]

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