At the beginning of “Ambush,” Lifetime’s UnREAL warned last night’s episode contained imagery and dialogue related to gun violence, race, and law enforcement. After claiming the network’s “hearts are with those families affected by gun violence,” Lifetime proceeded to run an episode of UnREAL, a show about the fictional behind-the-scenes workings of a reality show similar to The Bachelor, that exploited a situation involving the show’s black “suitor” and white police officers.
The whole point of this season has been to focus on how progressive the show’s producers think they are by “making history” with the first black suitor and how they cynically manipulate scenes to increase ratings. As producer Rachel (Shiri Appleby) self-importantly says, “I have single-handedly broken down all of these preconceived notions on love and race because Coleman and I, we are making television that matters. I don't know if you've noticed it, but we actually have the first black suitor. That's groundbreaking.”
The show’s star, Darius (B.J. Britt), is not happy about the producers’ continual exploitation of race for ratings so, in order, to spice things up, Darius and his pal Romeo (Gentry White) decide to go on a joy ride in a Bentley from the set to blow off some steam. They take along a couple of intoxicated white contestants.
Showrunner Coleman (Michael Rady) hesitates when Rachel decides to call the police to report the Bentley as stolen when they discover what is happening – he says, “Two black guys in a Bentley in this town? That won’t end well.” “Exactly,” says Rachel, who seems addicted to manufacturing drama for the show. The prospect of “making television that matters” is too much so he relents and tells her, “Make the call.”
Hoping for a good racial confrontation and social message – white cops pulling over a black guy driving a very expensive car with another black guy in the passenger seat plus two drunk white women in the back seat in a stolen car – the producers film as the car is stopped and the police approach the vehicle, but things quickly spiral out of their control and shots are fired.
When Jay, a black producer, realizes it was Rachel who called the cops, he’s disgusted and finally calls her out on her liberal-do-gooderism.
Jay: You know, I have eaten this crap for so long now, and that's on me. But you, with your preachy, holier-than-thou bullshit -- first, you pat yourself on the black for getting a black suitor and contestants who get treated like garbage, and now your plan is to, what, Rachel, just expose how racist the police are by getting a brother shot? If Romeo dies, this is all on you. And this is not your story to tell. So why don't you stop trying to help because there's a very good chance everyone might be better off without you?
But remember, Lifetime is the network with the feminist message. It’s all about pushing this message in UnREAL. Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, the show’s director, is shown in a featurette saying the police pullover scene is one for which she “prepared deeply” and used camera work to show Rachel as disoriented when the police officer tackled her while she ran onto the scene. Then the words “shot by her. Her vision is our focus” appears on the screen. What kind of blather is this? What vision?
In recent weeks, our nation has been faced with increasing racial violence and deliberate assassination of law enforcement. Exploiting this white hot issue, even within a silly television series scenario, is unnecessarily unhelpful – the disclaimer at the beginning of the show proves while the network is aware of potential harm, they chose to forge ahead with this episode. They are women, hear them roar.
Tiffany: I'm so glad to be out of that house. If I had been cooped up with a bunch of bitches for one more minute, I was gonna scream.
Yael: Oh, my God. No, not you.
Tiffany: No offense.
Yael: It's fine.
[ Laughter ] [ Siren wailing ]
Darius: Hold up, hold up. -Ohh! Hold on. It's fine.
Tiffany: Someone's getting in trouble.
Darius: No, it's fine. -All right, stay cool.
Romeo: Stay cool -- two Darius Beck autographs for our friends in blue, and we are green. Trust me.
Tiffany: Hey, where's my Darius Beck autograph?
[ Police radio chatter ]
Officer: We've got the 10851, four occupants. We're approaching the vehicle.
Yael: I got you, baby, -What if we get --
Darius: Hi, there, officer.
Officer: License and registration, please.
Darius: Listen, I'm Darius Beck, pro football player.
Officer: The quarterback? Is it him?
Officer: I can't -- I'm not sure. I need to see some I.D.
Darius: Oh. Um, look. This is crazy. Look, I don't have my I.D. On me. They took it back at the, um... I'm on a reality show, okay? And they –
Yael: W-we're on "Everlasting."
Yael: We're all on "Everlasting."
Darius: Yeah, no phone, no wallet.
Officer: If you guys are on the show, where are the cameras?
Darius: Look, this isn't part of it, okay? I'm just taking these girls out for a spin.
Darius: All right, but listen, I'm Darius Beck.
Tiffany: One of us is gonna marry him!
2nd Officer: Miss, are you okay?
Romeo: No, she's fine. She's just had too much to -
2nd Officer: I'm not talking to you. I'm gonna need an answer from you, miss. -Are you okay?
Romeo: Look, I'm for real. She’s fine. She had too much to drink. And he really is Darius Beck. – Officer: She's not talking to you! This car's been reported stolen.
Darius: I can't see. -What? -Whoa.
Officer: Sir, I need you to step out of the car.
[ All arguing indistinctly ]
Darius: You have it wrong -- all wrong.
Officer: Step out of the vehicle right now.
Woman officer: Officer Pyne, get the driver out of the car and get the situation under control.
Romeo: No, you do not have to do that. They have to have cause to make you get out.
Officer: I said shut up.
Romeo: You don't talk to him.
Officer: Get out! Out! That's right. Let's go. Get out of the car. –
Darius: All right, look, I'm out.
Officer: Go on, turn around.
Darius: I'm out, okay?
Officer: Turn around.
Darius: Okay, I'm out.
Romeo: Do not lay your hands on him! –
Officer: Keep your hands where I can see them! Get out of the car! Get out of the car!
Rachel: No, no, we got to do something.
Coleman: No, no, no, no, no, not yet. This is how you know when you're getting good stuff -- stuff that matters -- when it's hard.
Darius: Hey, look, you don't know who I am? Whoa, hey!
Officer: Yeah, yeah, well, we don't care who you are.
Romeo: Ah, wait. –
Officer: Hands behind your back.
Darius: You don't know who I am.
Romeo: Listen. Stop it! He's not okay. I'm gonna sue. Now, look.
Officer: You think we haven't heard that before?
Darius: Wait! [ Screams ]
Romeo: Stop! It's his back!
Officer: Control the suspect!
Romeo: Be careful!
Rachel: No, no, no, I'm stopping this now.
Coleman: Rachel, wait. Rachel! Rachel!
Rachel: Hey, I'm Rachel Goldberg! I'm the one who called! Don't hurt him!
Officer: Back up!
Rachel: Don't hurt him!
[ Gunshot ] [ Screaming ]
Officer: Back up, back up! I said back up!
Coleman: I'm unarmed! I'm unarmed!
Darius: What did you do?!
Yael: Rachel, what are we doing?! Rachel!
Coleman: He's been shot! Can we get him an ambulance, please?
Male Officer: I still have a pulse.