More than 18 months will have passed from the season two finale of Lifetime’s drama series “UnReal” and the show’s return later this month.

And frankly, I think we needed that time apart.

When the show premiered in 2015, it was an honest-to-god shock. Lifetime, known to most as their mom’s favorite channel, had produced a tightly written, sharp-tongued and scathing series about the morally bankrupt production of a “Bachelor”-style reality series.

Through the diabolical duo of the deeply damaged producer Rachel (Shiri Appleby) and ruthless showrunner Quinn (Constance Zimmer), the fearless show skewered the idea of love manufactured by reality TV, showing the desperate lengths to which the crew of the fictional “Everlasting” series would go in order to stir up drama and point a camera at it.

It was unapologetically dark and funny, and carried the pedigree of two former “Bachelor” staffers among its creative ranks. As producers nudged the women competing for a British bachelor’s heart to butt heads, throw tantrums and question their sanity, “UnReal” struck a tight balance between salacious drama and a smart commentary on what a person sacrifices for fame, social approval and love.

But in season two, the show seemed to toss that restraint out like an unattractive contestant. Instead, it spent 10 episodes tripping headfirst into clumsy storytelling that unraveled its original message of women taking the show by the horns. It floundered the story of its first black bachelor (something the real “Bachelor” has yet to do) with unchecked domestic abuse, a laughable double homicide and an inexcusable take on racially motivated police violence.

No show is perfect, and “UnReal’s” early success certainly put big expectations on its shoulders. But the speed at which it spiraled from one of TV’s respected new shows to one of its worst, period, was a significant bummer.

When the show finally returns 10 p.m. Feb. 26, it does so with its first female suitor (or suitress, as she’s called), a Silicon Valley tycoon played by the great Caitlin FitzGerald (“Masters of Sex”), and hopefully a re-energized ambition to course correct. But it’s going to need to be brave and make some bold decisions to get there.

- Stop toying with Rachel’s mental health. Watching her crumble each season feels cruel. Either have her permanently escape “Everlasting’s” clutches, or show her rising above the murky depths to which the show pulls her.

- Kick abusive, unnecessary Jeremy (Josh Kelly) to the curb. To no one's enjoyment, he is still part of the cast, but this season needs to see him get the boot, preferably Rachel’s.

- Get out of the house. The show’s first two seasons took place inside the same camera-ready mansion, but why not take your suitress and her suitors on an extended field trip? It’s getting claustrophobic.

- Give Quinn a win. She can’t have kids, her boyfriend dumped her because it, her ex is constantly around with his new paramour and her show is always on the brink of collapse. Zimmer is outstanding at the tyrannical dark stuff but she’s probably just as good at a cracking a well-earned smile, or at least a smirk.

- Dial back Quinn and Rachel's feuding. They are the show’s core and between a revolving door of men and constant power plays, it was hard to keep track of where they stood in season two.

- Pretend like season two never happened. Seriously.

But most importantly, “UnReal” has to find its center again. Season two was a slow-motion trainwreck, each car gradually slamming into the next until it was all a heap of unappealing chaos.

“UnReal” can still be great, but it has to go back to basics, return the focus to skewering the dark side of reality TV and be the deliciously entertaining show season one proved it can be. With season three, “UnReal” must stand in front of viewers and ask them to accept a metaphorical rose and continue on this journey with it after a treacherous second outing.

I accept this rose, but I reserve the right to give it back.

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at 910-343-2327 or Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com. Hunter is a member of a Television Critics Association.