Unsolved Mysteries title card.

Unsolved Mysteries, Vol. 1

Dept. of True Crime Trepidations


A host. A host. My kingdom for a host. Is that really too much to ask? A lot of what made Unsolved Mysteries so special had to do with Robert Stack. The air of mystery he could invoke was nothing short of magnificent. Every week, armed with just his rich and resonant voice, he would delve deep into the unknown and regale us with tales that ran from the frightening, to the odd, to the uncanny, to the downright bizarre.

Unsolved Mysteries was one of my childhood addictions. The show didn’t often scare me, but it would always keep me up at night. After every episode, I would lie in bed and wonder about all those people I had just met. The wives whose husbands had gone missing. The sad sacks who had lost everything to some sweet-talking fille de joie. Even those ghostly apparitions, stuck between here and the afterlife, looking to exact revenge and settle old scores.

It was what my friends and I would discuss at school during recess. Did D.B. Cooper really get away with one of the most daring crimes of the last century? What really happened to Cindy Song? Did Michael Jones ever exorcise the ghosts that haunted him? Unsolved Mysteries would open our eyes to the fact that the world was a deeply strange and complex place. One that often defied both fact and fiction.

I realise that Robert Stack is irreplaceable (we had Dennis Farina anchor a revival of sorts in the late aughts and it just wasn’t the same), but the decision to not have anyone host this Netflix reboot lies at the root of why it doesn’t quite work.

Now, don’t get me wrong. As a documentary series, this is incredibly well made, with stellar production values, and interesting stories to tell. It just doesn’t look and feel like Unsolved Mysteries. Merely using that iconic theme song, and having a hazy silhouette of Robert Stack fade behind the opening title card, does not a reboot make.

The original series was unique because of how comfortable it was exploring anything and everything. Nothing was off the table. Murders and missing persons. Kidnappings and conmen. Ghosts and psychics. You would tune in every week not knowing what you were going to get. Only that you would end the hour being both curious and afraid. It was great television.

Five of the six episodes of this Netflix reboot, however, revolve around unsolved murders. And while all of them are incredibly compelling mysteries, they end up feeling like just more of the same.

For starters, these episodes run a little too long. Unlike the original series which told three, sometimes four, stories per episode, the producers of this reboot decided to dedicate each episode to a single story. The one thing they forgot to do was ask themselves if these were stories that needed 45 to 50 minutes to be told.

The problem here is that 10 minutes in and you know exactly how each story is going to play out. Yes ladies and gentlemen, “Netflix Bloat” is real. It is a problem. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Yet, in this case, it is something that could have easily been avoided by having a host. A well written script, with narration that serves to set things up quickly and efficiently, which fills in the blanks and moves each story along, would have gone a long way in making these episodes a lot tighter.

Instead, we learn about these mysteries from the usual set of talking heads. Family members and friends. Journalists. Police officers and experts. And while we don’t necessarily see the filmmakers’ hands, it does feel at times that everyone involved is being nudged along in the right direction. It just takes them far too long to get anywhere.

In fact, the one digression in the series, an investigation into a series of UFO sightings in the Berkshires in 1969, will leave you wondering what could have been had the producers branched out beyond the typical murder mystery. That episode also benefits from having the shortest running time.

That being said, Netflix has only dropped the first six episodes of a promised twelve, so here’s hoping that the back half of this season (Volume 2?) will give us stories that examine more of the supernatural, the paranormal, and the extraterrestrial.

These days, we are inundated with so much true crime content: in books and movies, on podcasts and television, and on podcasts that get adapted for television. It is everywhere. There are crime conventions. There are amateur sleuths on Internet forums who are obsessed with figuring out who the Zodiac is. The genre has become a global obsession.

There really is no point in rebooting an existing franchise if all you want it for is name recognition. Yes, Unsolved Mysteries is something tried, tested, and true. But it also has the potential to stand apart as something different. Especially now. Just imagine, an 80s throwback that looks and feels fresh? All the producers needed to do was lean into that original format.

But by trying to fix something that wasn’t broken, what we got instead, were six episodes so generic, it feels like they were just trying to cash in on an existing craze.

Unsolved Mysteries
Netflix, Volume 1, 6 episodes
Producers: Terry Dunn Meurer, John Cosgrove, Robert M. Wise, Josh Barry, and Shawn Levy

Unsolved Mysteries is now streaming on Netflix. You can watch all the original episodes of the series on YouTube.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

Previous Story

Home Game

Next Story

Doom Patrol Diary: Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2

Latest from TV Reviews

Elite, Season 4

Can the students of Las Encinas maintain the high grades of previous