UNBELIEVABLE -- Grade: A
The best female-driven true-crime miniseries with the worst title of the year. Now on Netflix.
So producer/writer/director Susannah Grant knows a little something about adapting a true-crime story into a powerful study of a flawed, fascinating woman -- since she's the writer responsible for Erin Brockovich. And now, she's given us not one or two, but three fully-formed female characters in this eight-episode miniseries inspired by a real case out of Colorado.
The structure Grant has built is interesting as well. Unbelievable opens by putting us smack in the unfortunate shoes of Marie Adler, a young victim of a violent rape, beautifully played by Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart). Adler also happens to be a former foster child living in an apartment complex for teens transitioning into the adult world. We follow her through the reporting nightmare -- the repetition of her story for multiple cops, the painful gathering of the rape kit at the hospital, only to have doubts cast on her version of events from the (male) detectives assigned to the case.
And yes, we've seen the devastating, exhausting aftermath a reporting rape victim has to endure on TV before (ahem, SVU). But it never gets any easier to experience -- nor should it.
Interestingly, the other main characters, Detectives Karen Duvall and Grace Rasmussen (Emmy winners Merritt Wever and Toni Collette) aren't introduced until the second episode, and they're not even working together till the third. And then we get the Cagney & Lacey reboot we finally deserve. Duvall and Rasmussen play off each other beautifully as the two cops who've picked up the trail of Marie's unknown assailant -- the serial rapist becoming ever more violent while leaving no DNA at his latest crime scenes.
Grant is masterful at establishing and developing the relationship between these two women. Duvall, a married mom of two, is thoughtful, soft-spoken and incredibly dogged, while Rasmussen is a bit older and more of a harder-edged seen-it-all type with a short fuse, especially when it comes to the attitudes of male cops towards the crime of rape. Their interactions never seem forced, they're just two women who're working the same case -- both bringing interesting angles and ideas to the table. The implicit feminist attitude feels totally natural and never forced.
Meanwhile, Marie's struggle for independence and understanding once she's caught in the nightmare of the system parallels the separate storyline of the cops' investigation, and it makes for a nice balance. The performances across the board are fantastic, as you might expect from this caliber of talent both in front of and behind the camera. In fact, some of the big-name producers on the show include novelist Michael Chabon and journalist Katie Couric.
The show suffers from streaming bloat -- I recommend watching Episodes 1-3 and 6-7 for maximum impact. Weirdly, the finale seemed off-key to me, especially the final scene, which ham-fistedly tries to tie the two storylines together. (Could Netflix be giving crappy network notes?) And though this is a closed narrative based on a true story, I really wish we'd get to see these two fighting more crime and sexism for a second season.