The true-crime genre has become so ubiquitous, across television, streaming services, podcasts and other media, that I suppose a reboot of the 1980s and '90s perennial “Unsolved Mysteries” was probably inevitable.
Indeed, the “Unsolved Mysteries" franchise has been revived and made its return July 1 on Netflix, where it's consistently been the #1 streaming show for its entire first week on the service.
“Unsolved Mysteries” is best known for its run on NBC from 1987 to '97, although the show bounced around in the years afterward, from CBS to Lifetime to even Spike TV, where it wrapped up its run in 2010. The original host was Robert Stack, who died in 2003; the new version has no host, but an image of him appears in the opening credits of each episode.
The new series, which involves both original creators John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer and "Stranger Things” producer Shawn Levy, pretty much plugs and plays the original format, devoting each of hourlong episodes to a single unsolved case of a murder or disappearance.
The first episode, called "Mystery on the Rooftop," follows the head-scratching case of a 32-year-old man who was found dead in the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore, in what his family does not believe was a suicide. The second deals with the disappearance of a Georgia hairdresser, Patrice Endres, who disappeared in 2004, while the third deals with the disappearance of a French family in 2011.
The show is fine, for what it is, but it doesn't do a ton to distinguish itself from all the other true crime stuff on Netflix and elsewhere. It doesn't pop anywhere to the degree that "Tiger King" did, or like "I'll Be Gone in the Dark," currently streaming on HBO, is doing. And of course, by definition, the mysteries are unsolved, so there's never any resolution or catharsis.
Meanwhile, “Unsolved Mysteries” is not to be confused with Unresolved Mysteries, one of the best communities on Reddit, in which amateur sleuths share their theories about unsolved crimes of the pats. That forum has a creepiness factor - don't even think about reading it right before bed - that the new show lacks. And of course, the new “Unsolved Mysteries,” unlike in the Stack era, seems likely to encourage viewers to research the cases themselves and compare notes online.
Considering the popularity of the show, and the durability of its premise, it seems likely that more seasons will come. Even so, it's far from the best true crime show available on Netflix.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.