2016 has been a wild, wild ride for us all. And we would be remiss if we weren't to acknowledge that there's been a lot of shit that we didn't fuck with this year. So welcome to Complex Pop's annual Week of Disappointment where each day this week, one staffer will talk about their greatest disappointment of 2016.
This past spring, after it was announced that UnReal’s second season would premiere in June, I was so hyped I wandered around the Complex office screaming. Season one of UnReal contained all the elements I want in a television show—two badass, kinda evil ladies (Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer) being messy and confrontational behind the scenes of a Bachelor-esque show called Everlasting. The debut season was so well executed from beginning to end, it felt like watching Lady Breaking Bad (well, minus the meth).
As promising details about season two began to slip out—there was going to be a black bachelor, they were going to explore race on reality TV, and Rachel and Quinn would finally be working together as a team—high expectations only got higher. And then it bricked. Hard. After the first episode (which was really good, tbh), season two rapidly nose-dived because it lacked everything that made season one so compelling.
Not even an epic performance from Constance Zimmer or some keen observations on reality TV could hide how much was wrong with the show. They split up their OTP, Rachel and Quinn, and had them spar for the majority of the season, a terrible mistake. While it’s easy to watch them toss venomous barbs at one another all day, keeping them in conflict felt like a regurgitation of season one’s arc.. And, I feel like I shouldn’t need to point this out, but Appleby and Zimmer are AMAZING together—why would you stifle that kind of chemistry? Speaking of chemistry, UnReal also rolled out a handful of terribly bland romantic interests for Rachel and Quinn in season two. Rachel’s came in the form of an evil but basic do-gooder producer, and Quinn’s was a billionaire, who while debonair, failed to bring any actual challenge or spark to the table.
Such deeply boring love interests hinted at a bigger problem with the show: UnReal is TERRIBLE at writing men, which is a hilarious complaint to have. Aside from these two boring sex objects, the three other men on the show were equally underdeveloped, or so shoehorned into plotlines that it made no sense for any of them to be there. Chet’s involvement in season one, for example, was logical because he was Quinn’s lover and the head of Everlasting, but when season two starts, Quinn’s in charge and her and Chet’s relationship has long been over. Yet, for some reason, they kept him on the cast—and even more confounding, they literally gave him an MRA (Men’s Rights Activist) storyline.
Keeping Jeremy, Rachel’s ex, around was even more pointless, as he suddenly became hell bent on ruining her life in the workplace. Fine, maybe let Jeremy lurk around to briefly cause drama for Rachel, but then get his bearded ass out of there! Sadly, since the season ended with the Rachel, Quinn, Chet, and Jeremy basically covering up a murder—yet another recycled plot line from season one—it’s basically a guarantee they will NEVER LEAVE. I don’t want another season with these two ruining these ladies’ flow (accidental period joke?), but it appears we’re headed that way.
But honestly, the dude who fared worst in season two was Darius, the first black bachelor played with utter charisma by B.J. Britt. It’s certainly not Britt’s fault that UnReal failed both his character and its depiction of race so deeply. In interviews before season two’s beginning, Shapiro promised a nuanced conversation about race. That didn’t happen. First of all, none of the contestants—let alone Darius—were developed enough to make you care about them. But even more egregious was the police shooting of Romeo, the worst moment of season two. One would think that UnReal would use this to make some comment about the rampant murders of black people in our country or about white people, yet again, using black suffering to tell their story, or at the very least, to shift Darius’s storyline. Instead, Romeo’s shooting moved forward Rachel’s storyline—it was an utterly exploitative moment using black bodies and current events to provoke the breakdown of a white woman, who ultimately didn’t learn anything from it. This was an insult to the audience, a giant "fuck you" to the Black Lives Matter movement, and by season’s end, almost totally forgotten. It was such a chilling cop out from a show that in its first season was razor sharp in its examination of gender; a move that makes it easy to be wary about where season three will go.
If we want to theorize why UnReal fell off a cliff, the easiest answer is the departure of TV vet and season one showrunner, Marti Noxon. If The New Yorker’s profile on creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro is any indication, she and Noxon butted heads constantly, and push finally came to shove when Noxon was replaced by Carol Barbee. Now it seems clear that things were much better when there was behind the scenes in-fighting. Yet another new showrunner will be taking over when UnReal returns for a third season in 2017 (not a great sign), and there are rumors that they’ll have a female suitor—and around 30 male contestants—this go-around (also not a great sign, since UnReal can barely write for three men). I’ll be watching, but I’m not going to be excited about it.