Dear Emmy voters: Don’t forget about Merritt Wever’s ‘Unbelievable’ turn in this crowded limited series/TV movie actress field

This year’s Best Limited Series/TV Movie Actress Emmy race is beyond stacked. We’ve already seen turns from Academy Award winners Regina King (“Watchmen”) and Helen Mirren (“Catherine the Great”), while the next two months will have an influx of performances from Oscar champs Cate Blanchett (“Mrs. America”), Nicole Kidman (“The Undoing”), Octavia Spencer (“Self Made”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Little Fires Everywhere”), plus past Emmy nominees Zoe Kazan (“The Plot Against America”) and Kerry Washington (“Little Fires Everywhere”). (Production on Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo‘s “Genius: Aretha” has halted due to the coronavirus outbreak, but Nat Geo has yet to postpone its late May premiere). Amid the insanely crowded field, I urge you, dear Emmy voter, not to forget about Merritt Wever, who stunned with her work in Netflix’s “Unbelievable,” which released way back in September.

In the eight-part miniseries, Wever plays Colorado detective Karen Duvall, who teams up with fellow detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) after discovering unnerving similarities between several rape cases in their state. What they’re initially unaware of is their cases’ potential connection to an incident that occurred two years earlier in Washington state, where 18-year-old Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever) reported being raped at knifepoint. Following inconsistencies in her story, she gave into the pressure exerted by two male police officers and said she made it all up, leading to a charge for false reporting.

Wever doesn’t make her first appearance until the show’s second hour, in which her character questions her first victim, Amber (Danielle Macdonald). The actress channels the empathy with which Karen listens to and observes her victims through subtle flashes of concern and heartbreak that cross her face at the right moments, as well as a subdued and peculiar line delivery. Wever’s calming and comforting presence creates a striking polarity to that of her male counterparts, who give Marie little space to comfortably recount her rape. When, in the following episode, Karen discovers that her team didn’t request a rush of the lab results from Amber’s rape it, it’s fascinating to watch Wever deviate from the restrained manner with which she generally plays Karen, as she raises her voice and alters her entire body language.

Before the team closes in on the suspect, Karen’s thorough vigilance and tenacity is contextualized in a beautiful three-minute monologue in the seventh episode, as she explains to Grace why she won’t be able to unwind until the perpetrator is behind bars. She expounds how, had she listened to her gut during a domestic disturbance case in her first year, a bailed-out husband might have been prevented from continuing to abuse his wife. Wever’s instinctive delivery makes for a very honest, convincing portrayal of someone reflecting on a traumatic and regretful event in their life. It’s so tranquil that it takes a while for it to wash over you, but when it does, it punches you in the gut.

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Finally, it would be incomplete to talk about Wever’s work without touching on her chemistry with her partner-in-crime Collette. Given that their characters have polar-opposite personalities, it’s a whole lot of fun to watch these two play off another. By the end of the series, you can’t help but notice how the two performances occasionally intertwine, a result of Karen and Grace subtly adopting behavioral habits from the other.

Wever is currently in third place in our combined Emmy odds, behind King and Blanchett, but ahead of Erivo, Dever and Kidman. Although she isn’t an Oscar winner like many of her potential competitors, she’s a two-time Emmy winner for “Nurse Jackie” in Best Comedy Supporting Actress (2013) and “Godless” in Best Limited Series/TV Movie Supporting Actress (2018). While her work on “Unbelievable” is much more subdued than her work in the aforementioned projects, the timely subject matter of the show adds an emotional heft to Wever’s character — someone who embodies a desirable empathetic attitude toward, and treatment of, sexual assault victims.

Although Wever’s work risks getting lost in the shuffle amid the abundance of shows with viable contenders premiering in the next two months, “Unbelievable’s” September release has given voters ample time to watch the show, while they may not be able to watch each and every contender releasing henceforward before having to mark off their ballots.

Wever has already received Best Limited Series/TV Movie Actress Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe Awards noms earlier this year. These give her a significant boost that, save for Dever who also scored both bids, none of her competitors have (Mirren only scored a Globe nom, while King snagged the Best Drama Actress trophy at Critics’ Choice before “Watchmen” switched to limited). Wever did miss out at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Collette was the only citation for the show, but she’s never been individually nominated by SAG and has, nevertheless, seen success at the Emmys. Plus, SAG recognizes lead and supporting performances in one joint category and often gravitates toward movie stars, which favored Collette, who’s competing in supporting at the Emmys.

Also, bear in mind that Wever will have added visibility during the last two months of eligibility thanks to HBO’s comedy-thriller “Run,” which premieres on April 12 and for which she’s competing in Best Comedy Actress (she sits in fourth place in our odds). This could bolster her chances of getting nominated for “Unbelievable” or even winning for one or the other project, should she be shortlisted for both. Just look at Patricia Arquette last year, who snagged noms for both “Escape at Dannemora” and “The Act,” and went on to win for the latter after cleaning up at the Globes, Critics’ Choice and SAG Awards for the former.

PREDICT the 2020 Emmy nominees now; change through July 14

Be sure to make your Emmy nominations predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before the nominees are announced on July 14. And join in the thrilling debate over the Emmy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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