A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Dedicated professionals and courageous victims work together to thwart a series of crimes, demonstrating themes of compassion, perseverance, and teamwork.
Positive Role Models
Characters are complicated and realistic -- Marie in particular makes mistakes that are easy to understand and empathize with. People in positions of authority make other mistakes that impact lives in terrible ways, but we understand that the failings are systemic, not individual. Officers Rasmussen and Duvall are both strong, intelligent women who sympathize deeply with the victims who trust them with their stories.
Violence & Scariness
Violent rapes are at the center of this drama; we see many flashbacks of rapes, but they're filmed in a non-exploitative way that's sympathetic to the victim, not the attacker, i.e. we see images of a woman's bare back with a man crouched above her, moving rhythmically (no private parts are seen), and a masked man brandishing a knife while he says "I'll kill you if you scream." Law enforcement officers collect a rape kit; we see a woman sitting on a toilet to take a urine sample, underneath a medical office drape as a doctor reaches beneath to take swabs, and photos of bruises on her body. A woman considers suicide and climbs over a railing but ultimately doesn't go through with the jump. The past foster homes of one character are described as "abusive" but that's all we hear about them.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
This drama centers on several rapes; see "Violence" for description of these scenes. During flashbacks of the rapes and the collection of a rape kit, we see a woman's bare back and backside from one side as she sits on a toilet to get a urine sample (no private parts are visible). Clinical words are used for rape: "Did he penetrate you anally?" asks a police officer in one example. A male is shown fully nude during a strip search.
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Language is infrequent but expect "f--k," "f--king," "ass," and "sucks," as well as clinical language for rape and body parts, such as "penetrate" and "rectum."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A character refers to giving an adult friend wine after a terrible experience, presumably to calm her.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Unbelievable is based on a true story of a woman who recants rape charges before investigators on rape cases in two other cities indicate that a serial rapist was behind the attacks. Given that sexual violence is at the center of this drama, expect re-enactments of the crime and lots of clinical talk about rape. Re-enactments are filmed in a way that's sympathetic to the victims -- we see their pain and terror, a masked man brandishing a knife, and the camera focuses on small details, such as a pair of tied hands, rather than showing nudity or otherwise depicting the crime. We do see a woman's bare backside from the side in a brief scene as she sits on a toilet to collect a urine sample for her rape kit. One character considers suicide (and climbs over a bridge railing) but doesn't go through with it. Clinical words are used for rape ("penetrate" for example), and there are infrequent curse words: "f--k," "ass." Marie is depicted empathetically -- it's easy to understand why she made the choices she did -- and so are the (female) police officers who wind up investigating her case, demonstrating teamwork, compassion, and perseverance in tracking down the rapist.
Is It Any Good?
Fascinating if grim, this sensitive dramatization of a terrible true story is hard to watch, but impossible to look away from. At first, the real story behind this drama is hard to understand -- why would a real victim say her attack never happened? -- but the series makes it powerfully and painfully clear why Marie thought recanting her charges would ultimately be easier. Kaitlyn Dever is achingly sympathetic as Marie, with every emotion visible on her face as she's put through the tortuous aftermath of a rape report: the swabbing, the scraping, the endless recitations of her attack to stone-faced male cops who seem more interested in spotting inconsistencies in her report than in finding areas to investigate. Worse still is the social shaming that follows her recantation, the counselors and former friends who criticize her harshly as tears course down her face.
Marie's story is so awful that it's almost a relief when Unbelievable shifts away from Marie's story and towards the police officers who investigate separate cases eventually linked to Marie's. Watching the pieces of a criminal puzzle fall into place is a familiar arc for anyone who's watched an episode of Law & Order, and Wever and Collette are easy to watch doing their jobs. But if a police procedural was the only place this series was going, it'd be a lot less special. It's hard to see a victim being truly victimized, by a criminal and those who were supposed to protect her. But Marie's appalling experiences aren't even particularly unique, and this searing drama makes it clear exactly why that's so dreadfully wrong.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.