Monday, August 29, 2016
That’s the way I feel about UNREAL.
First, let me back up, my TV mentors were Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and James L. Brooks. I learned from them that writing becomes richer and deeper if you strive to celebrate the human spirit, not just load up your script with jokes.
Now times change and styles change and I’m willing to concede that this approach might be deemed out-of-fashion, passé, or naïve to today’s hardened audience.
And that brings me to UNREAL.
I had never seen the show. It’s on Lifetime. For a long time I didn’t know it even existed. But I started hearing good buzz. And the creator is Marti Noxon who I greatly admire. The reviews were sensational. The show even won a Peabody Award. So I grabbed my TV Academy screener discs and eagerly looked forward to discovering this hidden gem.
After two episodes I felt the same dread as when watching VICTOR/VICTORIA. To me this was one of the most cynical TV series I had ever seen. The fictional crew making the show (EVERLASTING) had utter disregard and contempt for any of the contestants. Their only goal was to make flashy television, no matter how deceitful or hurtful they had to be to achieve it. And the contestants were all portrayed as narcissistic golddigging airheads.
Now I’m sure that’s EXACTLY the way it is in real life. I believe Ms. Noxon worked on one of these shows. Authenticity is not an issue.
I know it’s a cliché to say you must have someone to root for. And agree it's not absolutely necessary. I like HOUSE OF CARDS and Frank & Claire Underwood are reprehensible but it’s set in a arena where the entire world hangs in the balance, and ultimately I hope they’re led out of the White House in handcuffs.
But UNREAL is about a cheesy reality show -- an easy target. Full disclosure: I don’t watch shows like THE BACHELOR. I’m sure if I did I would be more invested. But from where I sit this series is very mean-spirited. And I just find it uncomfortable.
So I ask you readers – what am I missing? Is it mean-spirited but that’s the fun of it? Is that considered “edgy?” Is there humanity that I’m just missing? Is this just the current style? Are moral characters now uninteresting? Are we just now desensitized to human suffering?
As a writer, I was always taught to love my characters – even the antagonists. It doesn’t feel to me that the writers of UNREAL love their characters. In some cases it seems they loathe them. But again, that might be the point. That might be the hook. I’m sincerely asking because I would love to perhaps view this show from a different perspective and give it another try. I hate being out of step, especially in my own industry. So is it a generation thing? A sensibility thing? Or something else I’m just missing entirely?
Or, as a last resort, you agree with me?
Let me know what you think. I'm really curious. Thanks in advance.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM