Unsolved Mysteries Review (Spoiler-Free): True Crime With More Questions Than Answers

Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries offers few solutions and even less mystification.

Unsolved Mysteries
Photo: Netflix

This Unsolved Mysteries review contains no spoilers.

Unsolved Mysteries Season 1

The Netflix rebooted series Unsolved Mysteries could really use someone like Robert Stack to lead audiences through these mysterious cold cases. He may not have been the biggest named crime-fighting icon, but he brought his Elliot Ness from the original The Untouchables to the scene. He also brought his trench coat. True crime shows are coming from all directions, and most of them follow a similar pattern which was laid out by Unsolved Mysteries. What set it apart were that voice and that trench coat.

Stack hosted the groundbreaking investigative series between 1987 and 2002. It was also hosted by Raymond Burr, Karl Malden, Virginia Madsen and Dennis Farina. No one quite brought the suspenseful gravitas Stack did. He added an element which the new series sorely needs: spookiness and gravelly innuendo. He knew how to make your fingers clutch the edge of the sofa in suspense. This iteration doesn’t deliver that level of darkness.

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We’re less innocent now perhaps, or more. The original series included a disclaimer saying it was not a news program. But in the era of fake news, what is? The series truly held out hope that someone would have that one clue, that one vital piece of information which would bring justice to the players in the dark events. This, the new Unsolved Mysteries retains. They still have a tip line. It runs at the end, and is particularly compelling when it asks for witnesses to an extraterrestrial event from half a century ago. They also resurrected the theme music.

Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries is sleek and streamlined. There are almost no reenactments, like you see on most network shows. These sequences can be traced directly to the original series. While modern audiences might see these as quaint, they are as much a part of the show’s DNA as the theme and Robert Stack. Besides one or two shots of etheric mid-air suspension, we get mainly b-roll footage. Each episode is devoted to one mysterious case. The original series covered four scenarios per episode. The cases are presented at a more leisurely pace. Some episodes move slower than others. They could have changed up the format by putting together some of the cases which aren’t as strong. The hate crime murder in Kansas could have been coupled with the one is set in the Ozarks, where a young woman may have been silenced before testifying against her mom in her stepfather’s death, for example.

Each episode unfolds as a narrative mystery, telling the story through eye witness accounts, but there is more speculation than substantiation in the presentation. The new series is more character-driven, with the stories being told by ordinary people who lived through extraordinary events or unbelievable crimes. One of the mysteries takes us to France: “House of Terror,” where a mother and her four children are murdered and their bodies are found buried in their garden. The father, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, has also disappeared. Is he a victim or on the run?

The first episode, “Mystery on the Rooftop,” follows Rey Rivera, a newlywed who was only 32 years old when he disappeared after getting a late-night phone call. He is found in the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore. It looks like he was jettisoned from a roof. The police ruled his death a suicide, but every angle the hotel is shot from proves how impossible this would be. The distraught wife doesn’t buy it, but is she a little too distraught? Her husband may have had an undiagnosed mental illness or it could have been foul play. Unusual suspects include a business partner and the Freemasons.

Then there’s Berkshire’s UFO, the episode which fulfills the promise of the original the closest. It’s got more than just the usual object being unidentified, one of the witnesses gets a telepathic, or somehow otherly, message in the midst of the sightings. He runs in place and gets sucked up into the unknown. We hear from witnesses like Tom Warner, who was a child in 1969. We hear from other children, who have similar stories and memory holes. Throughout the region people reported bright, floating objects. Those who ventured close couldn’t help noticing the silence, and the electromagnetic charge. Witnesses talk about being removed from their cars and losing time. While the incident appears to have had widespread eyewitness accounts, there were no reports of glowing, flying objects in the local papers at the time.

The new Unsolved Mysteries is not spooky. Even the frightening portions of the UFO episode are shot with some promise made by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There are no Bigfoot, Devil’s Triangle or ghost episodes. We don’t get any insight on the Kennedy assassinations. The show is produced by John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer, who created the original Unsolved Mysteries, along with Stranger Things‘ executive producer Shawn Levy. So you’d think there would be stranger things in it.

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Unsolved Mysteries ultimately returns as just another true crime documentary series in a landscape which is littered with them. It doesn’t exonerate the wrongfully accused. It doesn’t bring closure to victims. It asks more questions than it answers, and while the original series made this the most compelling part of the narrative, the reboot doesn’t quite scratch the itch. It’s like watching your favorite classic rock act whose lead singer died and the bass player is fronting the band.

Unsolved Mysteries premieres on Netflix on Wednesday, July 1.


3 out of 5