“From the very first scene of UnReal’s second-season premiere, we know what kind of main character we’re dealing with. Shiri Appleby’s Rachel, a TV producer, gets a new tattoo on her inner wrist listing her priorities: “Money. Power.” And a third we can’t print referring to her male-objectifying lust.
Throughout the episode, she checks them off: she gets a promotion – she’ll now run the Bachelor-style reality programme Everlasting, where she’s been honing her stellar manipulation skills as a lower-level producer for the past several years. At a party celebrating her female boss and mentor’s new “seven-figure” production deal in Vegas, Rachel snorts cocaine and sleeps with the latest Everlasting star’s manager. Then she talks a junior producer through her first exploitative on-camera interview, directing her to bring a contestant to tears over her fiancé’s recent death. The junior producer vomits afterward, then chokes, and gasps “That was amazing!”
This isn’t just a show about an anti-heroine. It’s a show about the making of more anti-heroines – and what a heady trip being bad can be.
UnReal proves that the anti-heroine is finally, unequivocally, here. We have been living in the era of the TV anti-hero – to the point of oversaturation – since Tony Soprano strode onto the scene 17 years ago with a complicated family life and a gun in his pocket. Walter White, Don Draper and many others followed. But we saw few women with the same privilege of being bad while staying in viewers’ good graces.
Now, at last, with UnReal’s Rachel – as well as, arguably, The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick, the title character of Jessica Jones, Veep’s Selina Meyer, and most of the women of Orange Is the New Black, among others – we have entered the era of the anti-heroine…”