UnREAL co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro once unknowingly signed a contract that required her to work in reality TV production “in perpetuity throughout the known universe.” It’s an illegal requirement these days, but at the time it meant that “in case we settle on the moon and they want to make a reality show, they can send you to the moon,” Shapiro told Vulture at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, California. Wednesday. “That was literally what it was for.”
In actuality, it required her to work nine long seasons on The Bachelor, a job she is vocal about hating. While it may have been tough on her, it turned out to be a gift to the TV universe. Without that gig, there would be no UnREAL on Lifetime, last year’s surprise hit about the behind-the-scenes workings of a fictional dating show and the people who produce it. After Shapiro appeared at a press conference to discuss the second season of UnREAL, which begins production in March and will air in the summer, she spoke with Vulture about the upcoming season’s new racial and masculine themes. (Season one will be available on Hulu on February 3.)
Season two’s fictional suitor is a black quarterback named Darius who arrives at the Everlasting mansion with an agenda and a sidekick.
“He’s recovering from a scandal that’s a little bit silly. He’s on the show to rehab his image. He doesn’t come there to be serious about love. He comes there because he wants to plant the seeds for a future career as a sportscaster,” Shapiro said. Darius also surprises everyone by bringing his cousin, who is his manager, with him to stay in the mansion. “This is unusual for a suitor, and it’s a huge problem for everyone. [Darius] doesn’t want to be alone with all these girls. His cousin is a lot more rough-and-tumble and comes from a harder background. He’s always protecting Darius and keeps him shiny and clean and takes all the hits for him.”
The decision to make the suitor a black man triggered unexpected and intense conversations about race in the writers room, which includes four white women, two black women, two white men, and one Latino writers assistant.
“It’s such a scary topic and nobody wants to say the wrong thing, but we sort of said, ‘Let’s just be brave and really talk about it.’ It got very uncomfortable at times, but in a really great way. I feel I’ve learned more about race just in the last four weeks than I have in a really long time. Just from listening to some of our writers’ experiences as black women in the world, and what it’s like to date as black women, particularly this one statistic I’d never heard about — that about 70 percent of black women who have a bachelor’s degree and above are single. There’s this huge phenomenon of really educated black women ending up single. We talked about that a lot. We decided as a group that this is very uncomfortable, this is super scary, and let’s keep talking about it.”
It also led to female contestants on Everlasting coming from diverse backgrounds.
“We decided to explore the intricacies of the variations of black women. In being a black woman, there are all these choices that you make — is your hair going to be straight? Is it going to be natural? Are you light-skinned? Are you dark-skinned? There are so many different ways to be a black woman, and we realized we should talk about those things as well. Among the women, there’s a racist! Of course, Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) would cast a racist because they want some drama. We have a girl who is a southern apologist, so she believes in state’s rights and is one of those people who talks about the Civil War not being about slavery. And there’s another girl who’s a Black Lives Matter activist. The combination of girls is insane.”
Race will be explored through the show within a show, Everlasting, but UnREAL will tackle gender roles.
“For Quinn, Rachel, and Chet (Craig Bierko), there’s a lot of stuff about being a man. That princess fantasy where Quinn thought she was going to run away with Chet, Rachel thought she was going to run away with Adam? None of it worked out. So they decide to live like men: We’ll get laid, we’ll have money, we’ll have each other, and we don’t need anything else. Let’s just live like guys. Then Chet comes, trying to be a caveman, and they all fight about who’s in charge.”
During the hiatus, Bierko lost a lot of weight, and that will figure into Chet’s story line as well.
“Craig went on a Paleolithic lifestyle retreat, so we’re having Chet go on one, too, and he finds his inner caveman. We’re so proud of Craig. It’s good for his health. When we first met Craig, he said, ‘I’m a little pudgy right now, I’ll get in shape.’ And I said, ‘Actually, don’t. Read the character first. It’s totally fine for Chet to be pudgy. We love him chubby.’ But for Craig and his own life, it was important, and we’re super proud of him.”
When we see Jeremy (Josh Kelly) again, he will be very, very angry.
“He is incredibly pissed off at Rachel, and he needs to find a way to still work with her,” Shapiro said. With both the Chet and Jeremy story lines, the writers want to explore masculinity and how the men’s right movement intersects with feminism. “It’s a very female-centric show, so we want to look at things from their point of view, too.”