In the world of television, Rachel Goldberg is a rare character: a Jewish, female antihero. She’s the main character in “UnREAL,” a scripted drama on Lifetime about the behind-the-scenes world of a “The Bachelor”-type reality show called “Everlasting.”
Rachel is played by Shiri Appleby, who’s best known for her lead role as Liz Parker on “Roswell”; more recently she played Adam’s nice Jewish girlfriend, Natalia, on “Girls.” Rachel is complex in the way that all humans are complex — though she masterfully encapsulates the neuroses commonly found in highly driven people in certain industries. She’s manipulative yet self-sabotaging, vulnerable yet strong and, perhaps most of all, extremely good at her job.
Like its main character, “UnREAL” smacks of authenticity — that’s because one of its co-creators, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, spent three years as a producer of “The Bachelor.” Shapiro based “UnREAL” on her experiences there — from the punishing hours to producers being rewarded for making contestants cry on camera.
The first season of “UnREAL,” which aired last June and is now streaming on Hulu, was met with acclaim, with many praising its feminism and originality.
“UnREAL” offers a singular meditation on stardom, media mendacity, sexism, and competition among women,” D.T. Max wrote in The New Yorker.
Jewish references are sprinkled throughout the series, such as the time Rachel memorably said, “sheket b’vakasha,” Hebrew for “be quiet” — or, more aptly, “shut up.” And, this being about “the industry” there are loads of Jewish characters, too, from this season’s Jewish contestant, Yael (Monica Barbaro) — called “Hot Rachel” by the crew, thanks to her passing resemblance to Appleby’s character — and Rachel’s new love interest, Coleman Wasserman (Michael Rady), who was brought on to replace Rachel as the show’s on-set boss, or showrunner.
JTA spoke to Appleby about her own Jewish background, playing a complex antihero and more.