Nominated for Best Limited Series/TV Movie Supporting Actress for Netflix’s “Unbelievable” at the Emmys, Toni Collette led our odds during Phase 1, but she is now in second place for the win after her co-stars Kaitlyn Dever and Merritt Wever were egregiously left out of the lead actress lineup. “Watchmen’s” Jean Smart is out in front after the HBO series racked up 26 nominations, while three “Mrs. America” gals — Uzo Aduba, Margo Martindale and Tracey Ullman — and “Hollywood’s” Holland Taylor trail Collette in that order. The actress previously earned three Emmy citations, her first for “Tsunami: The Aftermath” in this very category in 2007 and her other two for “United States of Tara” in Best Comedy Actress in 2009 — which she won — and ’10. Here’s why I believe she can collect her second Emmy for “Unbelievable.”
For her turn as Grace Rasmussen — a Colorado detective who teams up with fellow investigator Karen Duvall (Wever) to catch a serial rapist who is bedeviling their precincts — Collette won the Critics’ Choice Award, and bagged Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards bids earlier this year. At SAG, where all three “Unbelievable” women were eligible in the single limited series/TV movie actress category, only Collette made the cut. While she might have been helped by being a movie star — she’s a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominee for “The Sixth Sense” (1999) — she still had to overcome her two co-stars, who, following lead actress Critics’ Choice and Globe bids, could have reasonably siphoned votes.
That said, Smart is Collette’s only rival who was eligible at the winter awards — and not even against Collette as “Watchmen” competed in drama then (which is how she won Critics’ Choice on the same night as Collette did). Hence, the correlation between winter precursors and the Emmys isn’t always spot on, but the former can anoint performers from the first half of the Emmy cycle as front-runners and give them a decent boost.
Last year, our odds pegged early birds Ben Whishaw (“A Very English Scandal”) and Patricia Clarkson (“Sharp Objects”) as the limited series/TV movie supporting Emmy acting frontrunners, but only the former triumphed (the latter was bested by “The Act’s” Patricia Arquette). Like Collette this year, Whishaw faced four contenders from series released in the spring, three of whom were from the same show (“When They See Us’” Asante Blackk, John Leguizamo and Michael K. Williams), and one who was also eligible at the winter precursors (“Escape at Dannemora’s” Paul Dano), but in a different category (in lead instead of supporting).
Now that Collette is “Unbelievable’s” lone survivor in the Emmy acting categories, all its acting branch support can coalesce around her. Its four bids may pale in comparison to “Watchmen’s” 26, “Hollywood’s” 12 and “Mrs. America’s” 10, but the nomination totals, both overall and in the acting categories specifically — “Watchmen” has six acting bids while “Hollywood” and “Mrs. America” have four — don’t always matter. Last year, Arquette won as one of “The Act’s” mere two bids (the other was for leading lady Joey King) despite her rivals’ series all earning noms in the high teens. On paper, “Watchmen’s” limited series front-runner status should favor Smart, but bear in mind that defending champ “Chernobyl” couldn’t produce wins for any of its three actors, including Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson in the supporting races.
Like Arquette last year, Collette could benefit from being the only nominee in her category who could be considered a co-lead on her show. Although her character doesn’t appear until the end of the second episode, she and Wever get the lion’s share of screen time thereafter as Grace and Karen co-lead the investigation. As Grace, a hard-nosed individualist who believes in hard work and the power of a drink, she is direct and abrasive, and filled with righteous rage — the complete opposite of Wever’s Karen, a calm, collected nurturer and woman of faith. Collette also adds energy and well-timed humor, which counterbalances but never overshadows the show’s serious subject matter.
As Karen and Grace begin to investigate a member of law enforcement, James Massey (Graham Hamilton), as a potential suspect in the fifth and sixth episodes, Collette unloads her character’s indignation. In the latter episode, which is her Emmy submission, Grace’s frustration over the lack of progress in the case boils over after her new suspicion leads to a dead end (give Collette the Emmy for for her spite-filled reaction to Massey threatening Grace to leave him alone and spitting on her face alone).
While Collette’s and Wever’s characters are polar opposites, there is one quality they share: unwavering empathy for their victims — even if they channel it in dissimilar manners. It creates a stark contrast to the behavior of their male counterparts, who exhort Dever’s Marie Adler — an 18-year-old who was raped by the same assailant three years prior in Washington state — to say she made up her attack. In a year when police misconduct is horrifically taking center stage, voters might gravitate toward a show that tackles how bad policing can be just as, if not more, traumatic as/than an actual crime, and toward an actor portraying a detective who actively seeks to fight against the corrupt system.
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