I already knew this was a show I wanted to watch, because I had been told it featured strong, complex female characters and was about the behind-the-scenes of a reality show and, as I explained to a friend recently, I enjoy any opportunity to feel superior for not watching reality shows. (The beauty of reality TV is that you feel superior whether you watch it or not. If you watch it, you feel superior to the people on it. If you don’t watch, you feel superior to the people who do.) Also, I know the showrunner for season 2. It turned out, unfortunately, that the first season was only available on Hulu, so I had to wait until, in honor of the about-to-air second season, Lifetime reran the first ten episodes, which I DVR’d and watched this weekend. I’m starting to think each of these will come with a technical glitch report, so here’s this week’s: although I very carefully checked my “scheduled recordings” list and made sure that all episodes were set to record, at the end of the day, one of the episodes did not record. So I haven’t seen the episode Truth. But I get the idea.
The premise of the show is that a producer on a Bachelor-style reality show had a breakdown on set and derailed the taping of a big finale. Now, for the start of the new season, she’s back. She doesn’t necessarily want to be back, but she’s scarily good at manipulating people into appearing foolish on camera, so her showrunner blackmailed her into coming back to her old job. Which I think is a definition of a hostile work environment, but if you’re going to watch this show you have to accept that these people are just this awful to each other.
The producer, Rachel, goes back and forth about exactly how evil she is willing to be. The showrunner, Quinn, acts as a mother figure to her and also completely and publicly revels in others’ pain. When anything actually bad happens, her only concern is how it will affect the show. She very consciously pushes Rachel to make these same choices, even though it’s caused Rachel to have a breakdown before. In the end, Rachel finds out that Quinn has sabotaged Rachel’s best chance at happily-ever-after and decides, screw it, at least there’s still a chance to be rich.
The second season has only aired one episode so far, but this season will be more about the power struggle between Quinn and Rachel. While the events are much darker (the big ploy of the season of the show-within-the-show is that their Bachelor this year is black and people are completely unapologetic in objecting to that), it’s hard to tell how seriously to take some of it. Chet, the creator of the show and a Bruce Campbell look-alike, comes back from some stupid retreat having decided that, “as the man,” he should be making all of the decisions and Quinn should be the nurturing one (you’d think he never met her before, but actually they’ve been having an affair f0r 15 years) so he actively seeks out everyone he can find with a penis to conscript them into his evil plot. And they all go for it! All men are so threatened by women having power that they’ll actually conspire to keep it from happening! Even at their own expense!
And this is actually the level that interests me. Look, I worked for a network that did almost entirely reality TV. Women in my age range were their target demographic. It was mostly women making this TV. Smart, funny, kind women, who are all currently making much, MUCH more money than me. And yet, the crap they thought women wanted to watch was offensively dumb. How they wanted women to act on camera was offensively dumb. It goes back to that feeling superior thing, except does it really matter to you to feel superior to the people on these shows? There was never any contest. So no, I don’t want to watch the crap. But I do want to watch the smart, funny, kind women making the deliberate decision to produce this crap. Especially with a showrunner I know, who I can trust to tell the story well.