Review: Unsolved Mysteries – Volume 1

Score: B

Director: Various

Rated: TV-MA

"If you have any information about this case..."

A fluid combination of obsession and fear sent me to the edge of my seat when I first heard that Netflix was reviving Unsolved Mysteries, the long-running NBC docu-series that asks for the public's help in solving some of the nation's most unusual cold cases.

For years my nightmares were narrated by Robert Stack, an iconic figure within the true-crime space that strategically stood amongst the shadows, reminding us all that a dangerous criminal was at large. All this while one of the most haunting theme songs played in the background. Over time, mostly in response to the internet and the public's access to information, the show failed to maintain its audience. However, I am proud to say that it is back, remolded for the modern viewer, and just as chilling as ever.

Featuring six episodes that encompass everything from Rey Rivera, a happily married man who mysteriously turned up dead at the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore, a family massacre featuring a murderous French patriarch on the run, and a UFO sighting in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1969, Netflix has upped the ante by broadening the show's dynamics, taking it internationally and giving viewers quality storytelling that is equally fascinating and horrid, even if it is unable to match the spookiness of the original.

Stack, who passed in 2003, is no longer part of the franchise, paving the way to a more documentary-style approach as each case is presented by investigative reporters, agents, and those closest to the victim. The result marks a unique blend between old and new, offering up just enough homage while ushering in a modern style that is sure to appeal to a new generation of home sleuths.

But one cannot fully appreciate the show without addressing the elephant in the room: Amid a world of popular investigative entries, why is there a need for more Unsolved Mysteries?

In an age of mini-series, limited events, and full-on documentaries, why is so much care and attention being put into these six stories, all of which run for under fifty minutes? If they aren't interesting enough to hash out over four episodes, why should we be inclined to turn in here? Especially considering that shows like Abducted in Plain SightDon't Fuck with Cats: Hunting an Internet KillerEvil GeniusThe Keeper, and Making a Murderer are merely a click away?

In all its guts and glory, the answer lies in the simplicity and absurdity of the show's stories.

Keeping the bare bones consistent with the original series, Unsolved Mysteries successfully recaptures the energy that ignited the craze that all but created a genre. Since its initial debut, entire networks have been created, dedicated entirely to the style of storytelling that was virtually unheard of prior. But unlike Dateline or 2020Unsolved Mysteries has never claimed to be journalistic, and that hasn't changed here. Instead, they present what they know, allow your imagination to run through the gauntlet of possibilities, and hope that someone watching can help bring a sense of closure to those desperately in need.

This reboot isn't attempting to recreate the wheel, nor is it trying to be something that it isn't. And though many of the stories are less intense than one might expect, they are unusual and feature an off trait that makes you question the how and why of the situation.

One significant change is the presentation. While the original series split each episode into four almost equal parts, Netflix has opted to use each segment to focus on a single story, giving each the space to breathe. While this gives us more time with each proceeding, it also unapologetically showcases when one case doesn't contain the details to warrant a full hour of screen time.

Is the new formula perfect? No. Will everyone be drawn to it during this new age of elaborate investigative storytelling? Probably not. But the show doesn't need to be revolutionary; it already accomplished that. Right now, it's enjoying its tenure, embracing itself as a binge-worthy option that benefits significantly from Netflix's platform and reach.

*This series is streaming globally on Netflix.  All six episodes were reviewed.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.