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What made Lifetime drama 'Unreal' a critical hit?

'Unreal,' which takes place behind the scenes of a dating show, returns for a second season June 6 amid near-universal praise. It's already been renewed for a third.

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    'Unreal' stars Shiri Appleby (l.) and Constance Zimmer (r.).
    Sergei Bachlakov/Lifetime
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Lifetime's critically acclaimed program "Unreal" returns for a second season on June 6, and the network has already renewed the show for a third. 

"Unreal" stars Shiri Appleby as Rachel Goldberg, a producer for a TV show that centers on people finding love. The program co-stars Craig Bierko, Constance Zimmer, and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. 

The first season of the program was critically acclaimed, with "Unreal" earning a place on multiple TV critics' best-of-the-year lists for 2015. What made the show appeal to reviewers?

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Megan Garber of The Atlantic wrote that the program is great viewing because it addresses romance and reality TV in an interesting way.

"Lifetime's dark satire of reality TV … is also a systematic takedown of 'The Bachelor' and of, really, the romance industrial complex writ large," Ms. Garber writes. "It's a show about romance that is decidedly unromantic. But it's also engaging drama, cleverly written and subtly acted and accomplishing a meaning-and-message interplay that can only be described as 'literary.'" 

Willa Paskin of Slate agrees that the program has interesting characters. 

"'UnReal' reimagined the antihero as a merciless, feminist empath hard at work manipulating people behind the scenes of a Bachelor-type reality show," Ms. Paskin wrote. "Created by women, starring women, airing on a channel for women, and riffing on a format watched by women, 'UnReal' proved ambition can flourish in any setting." 

And A.V. Club writer Genevieve Valentine writes that the show's biggest strengths are its two leads, Ms. Appleby and Ms. Zimmer. 

"'UnREAL''s biggest powerhouses are still producer Rachel and showrunner Quinn," Ms. Valentine writes. "These two pitch-black antiheroes aren't just the show's most effective story engine; they're the sort of layered, almost unforgivable but deeply human performances even peak TV is just beginning to get the hang of … And a season of complex narratives about how we create narratives? That makes it the most satisfying TV about TV on TV."

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