'UnREAL' Is Our New 'Breaking Bad'

How Lifetime's "UnREAL" defied expectations and became our new "Breaking Bad."

In the penultimate scene of the stellar first season of Lifetime's "UnREAL," "Everlasting" producer Rachel (Shirri Appleby) reflects on her season: "We killed somebody, didn't we?"

As the critically acclaimed show's complicated protagonist, Rachel has already been dubbed TV's first "totally dark, utterly irresistible female anti-hero." From the very first episode we knew Rachel was an excellent manipulator. Sure, it's the nature of her job as a producer for the "Bachelor"-esque show within a show, "Everlasting," but it's also something she doesn't shy away from using in her own life. She doesn't try to be likable. She doesn't go out of her way to please people. In fact, she makes some pretty despicable decisions throughout the first season -- ones that result in several public humiliations and even a suicide.


But her most manipulative -- and Emmy-worth for Appleby, TBH -- moment came in the season finale. Rachel, hellbent on producing the "greatest finale in 'Everlasting' history," turns on the hysterics to desperately plea with her former fling Adam in a confessional, then immediately turns them off to face a tearful Anna, who Rachel told to wait in the adjacent confessional, seconds later. Rachel played the game perfectly. She exposed Adam for who he truly was -- a player -- and delivered record-breaking ratings for the finale.

"UnREAL" co-creator Marti Noxon described this scene as her "Walter White moment." "We leave her unbridled, and a little bit out of control, and her dragon powers are at full force," she told TV Line.

By allowing their protagonist to be flawed and damaged and complex and sometimes, even despicable, "UnREAL" challenges its audience in a way that few shows have done successfully. TV has had an abundance of anti-heroes over the years -- powerful men (it's almost always men) who do bad things -- but none have been quite as despicable as everyone's favorite former chemistry teacher, Walter White.

AP Photo/AMC, Frank Ockenfels

"We talk about 'Breaking Bad' a lot in the writers' room. That's definitely something we aspire to -- that kind of antihero, but for women," co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro recently told HuffPost Live. "Tonally, we always calibrate back to, these people get to be like Don Draper, they get to be Walter White, they get to be Tony Soprano. And we threw out the word 'likability' really early on. We just don't care."

On AMC's Emmy-winning "Breaking Bad," everyone was capable of darkness. Even Skyler got used to the luxuries her husband's evil-doing provided to her and her family. That's the same formula Noxon and Gertrude Shapiro used to create their cast of characters. It would be easy to write off "Everlasting" executive producer Quinn (Constance Zimmer) as mean and ruthless, but the show has given her layers. She is as insecure as she is conniving. Most importantly, we understand her motives, even if we don't agree with them.


Quinn and Rachel's relationship, much like the one between Walter and Jesse Pinkman, is the heart of the "UnREAL." You can say Jesse was the moral compass of "Breaking Bad," but when he killed Gale Boetticher in the season 3 finale, he knew which side he was on. Jesse, like Walter, and Quinn, and Rachel, did something truly despicable.

While Rachel has had a few distinct "Walter White moments" throughout the first season -- remember when she set Mary, a single mom, up to be humiliated on TV? -- it's clear that "UnREAL" will fully unleash her inner Heisenberg in season 2. Because as Walter White learned, once you start taking, you can't stop.