Unsolved Mysteries – Season 15 (Netflix)

No, that’s not a typo.  There are currently fifteen seasons of Unsolved Mysteries. I’ll admit that I was never a regular watcher of the series when it ran on broadcast TV.  (It has aired on NBC, CBS, Lifetime and Spike.)  To me, the series had a stodgy feel to it, as if it was something your parents or grand-parents would watch on a Friday or Saturday night, while you were out getting into trouble.  I remember watching it a few times late at night over the past twenty years, when battling insomnia.

When I heard Netflix was bringing back Unsolved Mysteries, I was curious as to why.  People who are interested in this sort of content can simply turn on the Investigation/Discovery channel or watch Dateline reruns on basic cable.  However, criminal documentaries is one of the few genres that Netflix has essentially elevated above its cheesy origins.  Netflix has had great success with Making a Murderer, The Keepers and The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, so reviving the grand-daddy of all criminal documentary shows makes sense in a way.  Like other shows you can stream ad infinitum on Netflix, you can queue up Unsolved Mysteries and let it play in the background while you do other things.

The production quality of Unsolved Mysteries is definitely top-notch.  It has the same crisp photography that is the trademark of the aforementioned Netflix true crime series.  It also makes ample usage of dynamic timelines, helping you to place the events you are hearing about in correct chronological order.  The reenactments of the mysteries are also done well, avoiding the campy aspects that make shows on ID trashy fun.

Unfortunately, Unsolved Mysteries also suffers from the same problems that make the other Netflix true crime documentaries difficult to sit through in their entirety.  The overuse of drone flyover shots and “dark and ominous” music give the show a dreamlike quality.  For the episodes that are only moderately interesting, they serve as a dose of Unisom for the sleep deprived.

Here is where I believe Netflix’s revival of Unsolved Mysteries makes a mistake.  By not having a host, the episodes lack an element that helps break up the pacing.  While having a host seems superfluous at times, a host can quickly summarize what has happened before and help focus our attention on the next act.  Since Netflix does not have commercials, they have no acts to speak of  and on the surface a host doesn’t seem to be necessary.  But having a known celebrity like Robert Stack or Peter Graves step in occasionally helps tremendously to break up the monotony of the proceedings.  Well known reality-based shows in the past always had hosts.  Think of Leonard Nimoy with “In Search Of… “, or Jack Palance with “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”.  A good actor commands our attention and knows how to liven up mediocre material.

The current season of Unsolved Mysteries consists of only six episodes.  The first three are the most interesting and most mysterious.  “Mystery on the Rooftop” involves a man how seemingly committed suicide by jumping off a roof at an impossible angle.  “13 Minutes” focuses on a woman who disappeared sometime after her last customer at her salon, possibly killed by an opportunistic serial killer.  “House of Terror” gives Unsolved Mysteries an international element, going over a case where a French Count killed his entire family without leaving any evidence and vanished.

The last three episodes are only somewhat interesting, and in the case of Episode Five, “Berkshires UFO”, is ridiculous.  Sure, I want to believe as much as Fox Mulder, but anytime I watch people relate stories of alien abduction, I can’t help but think, “crazy people!”  “No Ride Home” and “Missing Witness” are more depressing than mysterious, with the latter one where we actually find out who committed the murders.

If Unsolved Mysteries is to last longer than a season or two on Netflix, the show’s producers need to stop thinking that the show needs to be presented in an incredibly somber, serious and somnambulistic tone, and instead embrace the traditions of the true crime shows that have gone before it.

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