Unsolved Mysteries ran for 14 years after launching (with pilot host Raymond Burr and Robert Stack following as full-time host and the face of the series) in 1987. In the process, the show danced from NBC to CBS, Lifetime, and Spike TV, and much of it now sits on streaming platforms (including the Stack episodes on Amazon Prime and a season over on Hulu) for the nostalgic taking. Those cold cases chilled and thrilled, depending upon context and whether a taste of the paranormal (as with segments like “Queen Mary Ghost Ship”) was involved, but the series consistently captivated the true crime-buff audience. Netflix is reviving the show, which should be an interesting experiment, given that their audience has recently inhaled true-crime fare like Making a Murderer, Mindhunter, and multiple Ted Bundy-focused entries.
Clearly, Netflix has the audience for slightly heady, fully digestible crime fare, so it feels like a no-brainer to churn out some new Unsolved Mysteries, although there’s always a risk involved when one fiddles with nostalgia. To start, the streamer’s dropping a six-episode batch (with more to come) that’s landing on July 1, and the good news is that this update should satisfy fans of the original and newcomers alike.
That last group feels necessary to mention but maybe a little bit absurd. Do any viewers exist who are predisposed to enjoy this revival but who have never seen an episode of the original series? Well, probably not. What’s important, though, is that the show feels familiar but refreshed, given that not only the original creators (Cosgrove/Meurer Productions) are onboard but also the Stranger Things production company (21 Laps Entertainment). You might think that the latter credit would up the ante on the supernatural references, but that’s not the case. So far, this revival is maintaining a healthy variety of cases with at least one heel grinding into reality most of the time.
Then there’s the formula of the original series to consider. As always, the franchise is dealing with mysteries that remain, by their very definition, unsolved. And again, the show heavily focuses upon stories of missing loved ones and/or strange paranormal encounters, all explained by family members, detectives, and journalists. Yet some structural differences exist, which may or may not go too well with viewers:
(1) Each hour-ish-long episode deep-dives into one mystery rather than a breezy treatment of four (give or take one) of them.
(2) No hosts shall be found, which is a bit of a bummer; admittedly, one can’t imagine replacing Stack without inevitable criticism in the aftermath, so that gig may have been a hot potato for worthy candidates.
(3) Updated and polished production values mean that the revival looks better.
I didn’t mind the differences. Especially with the lack of a host, that shift doesn’t feel strange; it’s as if Robert Stack’s ghost is already looming over the revival. The opening titles even end with a silhouette of Stack, who’s practically lurking in the shadows.
Crucially as well, the show pointedly sticks with expressing the wish — at the end of each episode — that anyone with knowledge of these cases reaches out at Unsolved.com. Keeping that signature touch might prove even more useful in 2020 than it did in the 1990s. The original series featured updates on past episodes where tips led to solving crimes, so maybe we’ll see more of that happening now. At least, I am hoping that the interconnectedness of 2020 will make a difference because some of these mysteries have boggled minds for nearly a decade. And they’re all google-able, should anyone wish to go more in-depth, beyond what’s shown onscreen.
The six episodes being released this week should prove encouraging for anyone who doubts that a revival’s possible. There’s everything from a UFO-focused episode to a case where a husband flees from his home and disappears, with subsequent clues maybe suggesting the involvement of a certain secret fraternal organization in the U.S. There’s also — and this is the crown jewel of the debut — an installment that crosses the pond to explore the gruesome Dupont de Ligonnès murders, for which a French count (and prime suspect) remains on the run. Other episodes explore cases where a victim’s employer or various family members may have committed heinous crimes. Let’s just say that the show’s committed to providing something to satisfy every true-crime buff, even if most of these episodes revolve around murder.
As with the original, Unsolved Mysteries can be a heavy viewing experience at times. That could have presented a tough roadblock when Netflix’s primary objective is often to provide a binge-worthy product. It’s a tricky balance, to keep episodes “consumable” while doing long-ish dives into research, respecting victims’ families, and compelling an audience. Clues, testimonials, and pleas all enter the mix; all parties are frustrated at their lack of closure. It gets a wee bit sensational at times, which strikes a different tone than the revolutionary I’ll Be Gone In The Dark on HBO, but the target audience is the same. These stories will stick around in one’s mind, come bedtime, and they are addictive. Netflix’s objective is to keep people streaming into the next episode, and with the revived Unsolved Mysteries, they nailed that goal.
Netflix’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ revival will premiere six episodes on July 1.