True crime documentaries are often gripping and absorbing to watch. Netflix has series like "The evil next door" and "Ted Bundy tapes" in their repertoire. However, their newest inclusion is anything but absorbing.
"Unsolved Mysteries" is a popular media franchise which started in the 1980s in the US. It gained huge popularity after its premiere in 1987 and the show ran for 15 consecutive seasons. In 2007 it was revived after a six-year hiatus, but due to lack of viewership, it ended again in 2010. After 10 long years, Netflix picked up the series for a reboot. And after watching it you will certainly wonder, why?
The reboot is not a typical true-crime docu-drama. Rather than focusing on infamous cases like John Demjanjuk, which invoked nationwide interests, or Ted Bundy, who was public enemy number one, the series focuses on small community incidents like the disappearance of a popular nice guy of the neighbourhood or a small village that experienced a UFO sighting on a regular September night in 1969.
The original series was hosted by Robert Stack for 291 episodes. But the reboot does not have a host, rather depends on info-graphs and voice-overs of the participants. As the title suggests, "Unsolved Mysteries" do not provide the audience with a closure in each episode.
Each vicious murder, mysterious death, disappearance, or supernatural occurrence ends exactly as the title suggests. It was a resounding success in this format in the early years. The executive producer of the original show, Terry Dunn Meurer, said in a recent interview, "Ever since the series went off the air, we wanted to bring it back. There are always so many mysteries out there that need to be solved. Every day there are new ones. It's just a passion and a mission for us to try and solve as many as we can."
But, the re-boot falls flat on this tested format. First of all, the cases at times seem imposed upon the audience. Most of them are without originality and an intriguing mystery. All the series provides you with is monotonous plot and sound bites full of grievances and reminiscences of the affected. There is more speculation than substantiation in the presentation.
The first episode, "Mystery on the Rooftop," tells the tale of Rey Rivera, who disappeared after getting a late-night phone call. His dead body is found in a hotel. It looks like he was thrown through a hole from the roof. The police ruled his death a suicide, but the evidence proves how impossible this would be.
In each episode, the mystery unfolds through eye witness accounts. One of the mysteries take place in France: "House of Terror". It shows a mother and her four children are dead and their bodies are found buried in their garden. The father, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, has also disappeared.
Then there's Berkshire's UFO episode where one of the witnesses gets a telepathic message amid the sightings. We hear from other children, who have similar stories. People reported bright, floating objects throughout the area. But despite having widespread eyewitness accounts, there were no reports of glowing, flying objects in the local papers at the time.
While watching the show with an intention to binge, after the first episode I started to get bored and in the midst of the third, I had to stop it to watch it the next day. Yes, it was that bad!
Besides the plot, the episodes disappoint in pacing, climax building and drawing your attention. There was absolutely no rush and adrenaline for any of the cases depicted. It felt more like watching newsreels than a well-crafted documentary. For the ones like me who loves a murder mystery, the series history promised so much and delivered so little. It asks more questions than it answers, and while the original series made this the most compelling part of the narrative, the reboot does not do justice at all.
Well, not everything is bad about "Unsolved Mysteries". The production value is very high and it matches the production standards we expect from Netflix. Also, there are hardly any re-enactments. Mostly there are news-footages and still photographs to narrate the incident.
"Unsolved Mysteries" was released on Netflix on July 1. At present, there are six episodes, but Netflix will release six more to make it a 12 episode first season. I only can hope that the next episodes will be an improvement on the initial six.