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‘UnREAL’ tries something new with ‘feminist superhero’ suitress

The series’ showrunner wanted to give a successful woman a chance at a happy ending.

"UnREAL" airs new episodes on Lifetime every Monday. Photo Credit: Bettina Strauss / Bettina Strauss

Lifetime’s “Bachelor”-style scripted series “UnREAL” tries to break the mold in its third season by swapping appearance-obsessed dating show contestants with a career-driven female suitress.

Caitlin Fitzgerald (“Masters of Sex”) is Serena, the show’s first female lead looking for love on the fictional “Everlasting” series. A venture capitalist, she’s established, strong-willed and — shocker — actually looking for love, not fame.

“Adding the suitress did not have anything to do with the current political climate,” showrunner Stacy Rukeyser says, commenting on the timeliness of placing a woman in the typically male-dominated role. “I pitched the idea of the feminist suitress to our network back before Trump was president.”

Rukeyser says she fought for the out-of-the-ordinary female lead — one who opts against slipping into a low-cut “stripper mermaid” dress and won’t play by the sly manipulation of on-screen producers Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) — to see a role-model-worthy woman achieve her goals.

“It’s this predicament we were seeing, where there are so many strong successful women who, for some reason, are still single and find that the higher they climb the ladder at work, the harder it is to find a man,” she notes.

“UnREAL” has portrayed strong women calling the shots behind the scenes of the show since its debut, yet both Quinn and Rachel come with their own rap sheets of flawed relationships.

“This season, in particular, (Quinn and Rachel) are both going to see what else it is they may need to tackle in their lives,” Rukeyser explains. “For Rachel, it’s dealing with the fact that she was raped by one of her mother’s patients when she was 12 years old . . . For Quinn, in her effort to get her empire back, she has to decide by the end of the season if her career is enough for her or if she does want to work toward a romantic connection.”

Though crucial to the show’s success, Quinn and Rachel still answer to male execs at the top of the network. The first episode of the new season starts off with concern from the top that this “uptight” woman might not bring in the ratings.

The new suitress swoops in at a time when “UnREAL” needed to remind its viewers — and Quinn — that career-driven women can have it all, Rukeyser says.

“The princess fantasy is so embedded in these reality shows, which is that it’s perfectly fine for 20 women to date one man at the same time,” she explains. “You need to look great in a bikini and not talk about your work and, in exchange, he’ll pick you up in a helicopter and take you to dinner. It’s crazy, but it’s so embedded in our culture.”

Creating the “feminist superhero” (as Quinn puts it) may be refreshing to viewers who are itching to see women in predominant roles in Hollywood, but Rukeyser admits the show walks an objectively thin line to being considered feminist.

At its core, “Everlasting” is still a faux reality show riddled with manipulation, sexual abuse scenes and questionable portrayals of mental health. Not to mention, many of the women hoping to fall for the two previous leading bachelors were proved to be shallow and easily manipulated.

So, can you truly be a confident “career woman” and watch or participate in such a reality dating show?

“I think that’s a decision everyone needs to make for themselves,” she says.

“UnREAL” airs new episodes every Monday at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.

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