TV TATTLE

Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries reboot has almost none of what made the original memorable

  • Even though original Unsolved Mysteries creators John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer are leading the Netflix reboot, along with Stranger Things executive producer Shawn Levy, the new incarnation is "substituting generic cases and limited style in stories (episodes run less than an hour) that are too dull for a miniseries and too meekly investigated for a newsmagazine," says Daniel Fienberg. He adds: "The original series was driven heavily by re-enactments and, yes, sometimes they were cheesy as heck, but they were a way of illustrating claims or possibilities. In the new version, the re-enactments have been limited to more traditional documentary-style filler, bridging scenes or covering for a lack of news footage. They don't illuminate anything. And don't get me wrong, a series in 2020 doing the sort of re-enactments Unsolved Mysteries was doing in 1990 would absolutely look silly. But if you remove those re-enactments and don't replace them with re-enactments presented in an updated style — gimme Errol Morris' Unsolved Mysteries — or any compensating substance or rigor, the result is fairly generic, reasonably pointless and definitely has no connection to the Unsolved Mysteries brand. Plus, then you decide to go host-less? Come on! Robert Stack is the first, second and third thing that I think of when I think of Unsolved Mysteries. I'm not sure what Stack gave to the original series was 'gravitas,' exactly, but the Untouchables star gave it a certain synthetic credibility, walking through fake fog in a real trench coat, that was perfect for what Unsolved Mysteries wanted to accomplish. The host cements a tone and lets viewers know if they're supposed to approach what follows as grounded drama, high melodrama, utterly ridiculous or camp. Normally I don't require hand-holding, but with documentary storytelling this mediocre, an authoritative host might have compensated for a total lack of tone."

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    • It's a bit of a letdown to go without a host, or even voice-over narration: "Aside from a sharp reduction in trench-coat-clad gravitas, the main result of nixing a series host is that the show’s crowdsourced element is pushed to the background. Where once (Robert) Stack had looked directly into the camera and announced in a deep, sonorous voice, 'You may be able to help solve a mystery,' now there’s just a title card at the end of each episode urging viewers to go to the Unsolved Mysteries website if they have any information. And it’s a bit ironic, considering that online communities like Reddit teeming with volunteer amateur detectives have grown exponentially in the 10-year gap between seasons 14 and 15 of Unsolved Mysteries. But it’s not as ironic as the decision to ditch the title cards announcing that Unsolved Mysteries is not actually a news broadcast, when spending 10 minutes on Facebook makes clear that those sorts of disclaimers are needed now more than ever."
    • The reboot feels like visiting your favorite restaurant under new management: "The food and decor is the same, but the fundamental reason for its existence — the memories — have been washed away," says Kristen Lopez, adding: "What made Unsolved so unique from America’s Most Wanted or Dateline was that everything unexplained was up for grabs. Elongating episodes only works if there is a story worth fitting into nearly an hour, and of course murder and missing persons cases often can. But it will be hard to see the series tackle something like lost loves to fit in an hour. Conversely, some cases suffer from filler, with the camera capturing moody shots of centipedes walking through a wooded floor or, in the pilot episode focused on the death of Rey Rivera, taking two minutes to detail the unrelated significance of the location he died in. There’s a greater sense of tightness and cohesion — as well as being able to pack in more stories — with a shorter runtime."
    • The first six episodes of the new Unsolved Mysteries are as chilling as those in the original series
    • Unsolved Mysteries creators were going for more diversity with Netflix reboot: “We were always looking for diversity across the board,” says co-creator Terry Dunn Meurer. “We didn’t want to just do one episode and have all murder cases, so we wanted to mix up the categories. We want to mix up the ethnic diversity, racial diversity, age diversity, location. We wanted a combination of rural versus urban, international…Basically our criteria for the Netflix series are the same. It’s making the stories as diverse as we possibly can so that the audience feels like you’re getting a whole different story with (each) episode."
    • Going without a host and narrator was "a really hard decision": "The final decision was that it’s very difficult to fill Robert Stack’s shoes, and his trench coat," says Meurer. "He’s just such an iconic voice. He’s such a signature of the show. We also wanted the actual participants in the stories, the family members and law enforcement (officers), to be more involved in telling the stories.”
    • Unsolved Mysteries reboot wants to appeal to international viewers: "We were looking for cases set internationally, yes," says Meurer. "So, July 1, we premiere the first 6 episodes. And then sometime later in 2020, the second 6 will premiere, and there are actually two international cases in that grouping. We are trying to reach an international audience and solve international cases, especially the Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès (a man accused of killing his wife, his four children, and their two dogs in France) case, which is in the July 1 episodes. If he is alive, he is somewhere in the world laying low. We talk in the episode that he has just one of those faces that, he is just kind of the guy next door. You’d never stop and think that he was wanted in France for questioning in this case. We’re just hoping that someone will recognize him and come forward."
    • The format has changed, but the blend of fact and folklore remains: “We like the mix,” Meurer said brightly. “We’ve always thought of ourselves as a mystery show, not as a true-crime show.”

    TOPICS: Unsolved Mysteries, Netflix, John Cosgrove, Robert Stack, Shawn Levy, Terry Dunn Meurer, Revivals




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