Lifetime’s UnReal looks like its headed into AMC’s Walking Dead territory with a revolving door of showrunners, although with UnReal most have been involved with the show from the start. Originally created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Noxon, UnReal was Lifetime’s first critically acclaimed hit … maybe ever? … as a biting satire of reality dating competitions like The Bachelor, where Shapiro had worked in the past as a producer. The show’s first season was full of smart drama and sometimes shockingly mean, but it was also a show that stood out as something fresh and very much worth watching.
Season 2, unfortunately, didn’t quite measure up the same way. There was a lot of public drama between veteran showrunner Noxon and Shapiro, much of which is wonderfully documented in an in-depth New Yorker piece. In Season 2, Noxon took a step back while Carol Barbee took over the task of trying to keep Shapiro on task while juggling notes from the network. According to that New Yorker piece,
“Shapiro has the reality-TV-show habit of thinking of people in epithets, and to her a showrunner is a Wubby—slang for a child’s security blanket. A Wubby is there, in part, to insure that scripts are written on time and that scenes won’t be too costly to shoot. Shapiro calls herself the Magical Unicorn—‘the voice of the show, throwing up rainbows all over the board.’”
So for Season 3, Lifetime has brought in another showrunner in Stacy Rukeyser, who has previously been an EP on the show since Season 1, and is one of the hires Noxon initially made with the series. Rukeyser also makes a brief appearance in the New Yorker piece:
Like everything to do with “Unreal,” the studio’s notes had a meta component. Citing comments from Lifetime, an executive producer named Stacy Rukeyser told the writers, “I’d caution you against any pitch where Rachel doesn’t give a fuck about ‘Everlasting.’” It was essential to preserve the idea that Rachel is “super-invested, would do anything for the show.”
It seems like perhaps Lifetime believes that Rukeyser may be the person to right the ship, although there is no word anywhere about what Shapiro’s role with the series will be moving forward. In a follow-up from Deadline, Rukeyser isn’t shy about addressing the problems with Season 2:
“In Season 2 we took some very big swings, and I am proud of that. On the show, the pendulum swings between OMG moments and deeper character moments. Maybe the pendulum swung too far in the plot direction (in Season 2). So much happened in terms of story and reveals, we have to take time to explore what that means for the characters, the psychological impact and the truth about what happened to them.”
Reports suggest that the production took a long, hard look at itself before starting up with its Season 3 plots, so hopefully things will work out better this time around. It’s unfortunate that Season 2’s big story — that Everlasting would have a black suitor for the first time, something its real-life counterpart The Bachelor has yet to do — was buried under a mountain of frantic, often deeply caustic drama that sent the train right off the tracks for most of its season.
There’s no word yet on what we might see in Season 3 of UnReal, but this swap should make the skeptical — and those who were fans of Season 1 — curious to at least tune in and see where things go. For now, the series is set to return in the summer of 2017.