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TV Series Review

The phrase “adding insult to injury” is as cliché as clichés get. And when we use it, we risk minimizing the meaning behind it.

But Marie Adler knows that, behind that cliché, lurks an unimaginable horror.

Marie was raped in her apartment in 2008: She remembers how he tied her with her own shoelaces, blindfolded her, threatened her with a knife. How she managed to cut herself free and finally call for help.

But when she told the police, they doubted her story. Wait, did you say he wore a sweater or a hoodie? Did you cut yourself loose before or after? Why no forced entry? Why did the rapist tie you up with your own shoelaces and then leave them at the scene? She doesn’t know. She can’t remember. Her stories are inconsistent and, as the inconsistencies pile up, the authorities grow more skeptical. Finally, they encourage her (bully her?) to recant.

It was the ultimate insult to the ultimate injury. To be raped and not be believed. To tell the truth, and then be forced to lie because the truth can’t be believed.

Three years later, a rash of rapes breaks out across Colorado. The assaults sound remarkably familiar to Marie’s experience—the experience that, officially, never happened. But two detectives are on the trail, and they’re beginning to put the pieces together.

The injury Marie suffered will never go away. It’s a part of her now, body, mind and spirit. She’ll always feel the insult, too. No apology will ever completely expunge that extra pain.

But perhaps detectives Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall can bring Marie’s attacker to justice and protect other young women. And even if an apology doesn’t cure all, at least it would acknowledge the wrongs.

Telling the Untellable

Unbelievable is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning story by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, which itself unpacked real events that took place in Washington and Colorado. This is, in other words, a story rooted in fact—and all the more harrowing because of it.

Is the Netflix miniseries brutal? Sexual? Horrific? Of course. The story the miniseries chooses to tell demands it. We can, perhaps, ask whether a show—ostensibly made to “entertain”—should predicate itself on such a story. But if such a story is to be told, we should be cautious about condemning it for being too graphic: To downplay those terrible elements seems, in a sense, to diminish the terrible facts.

And unlike dramas that depict terrible deeds in salacious and tawdry detail—seeming to want to simultaneously condemn those acts while still using them to attract eyeballs—Unbelievable doesn’t feel intentionally prurient.

But it does feel horrific.

By definition, Unbelievable is not family viewing. Terrible crimes beget terrible reactions, and we see plenty of both. While we don’t “see” much in the show’s repeated depictions of sexual assault, we feel plenty: The confusion, the horror, the ultimate violation. The aftermath, in some ways, is even worse: Marie is forced to repeat her story, in graphic detail, again and again in the opening episode—repetition that can almost feel, to her and to the viewer, like another assault. Viewers see plenty of skin, too—though mostly done less to titillate and more to emphasize vulnerability, injury and misplaced shame. Language can be coarse and obscene, as well.

Unbelievable tells a gripping story and tells it well. Unfortunately, it shows us and forces us to feel it, too. It forces us to put ourselves in Marie’s (and other victims’) shoes and experience, in some dim, distant way, an act that Marie would rather forget. And we, like she, relive it again. Again.

“I don’t really like to think about it,” Marie says at one point. Who could blame her? And if we choose to step into her painful story—one that she herself would rather forget—we must ask ourselves an important question: Why?

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Sept. 13, 2019: "Episode 1"



Readability Age Range



Toni Collette as Det. Grace Rasmussen; Merritt Wever as Det. Karen Duvall; Kaitlyn Dever as Marie Adler; Eric Lange as Det. Parker; Bill Fagerbakke as Det. Pruitt; Elizabeth Marvel as Judith; Bridget Everett as Colleen; Danielle Macdonald as Amber; Dale Dickey as RoseMarie; Liza Lapira as Mia; Omar Maskati as Elias; Austin Hébert as Max Duvall; Kai Lennox as Steve Rasmussen; Blake Ellis as Chris McCarthy






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

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