Unsolved Mysteries is Netflix’s most recent true-crime project. As its title suggests, the show is an exploration into six different unsolved mysteries all over the world. The show is a reboot of the original that aired from 1987 to 2010, hosted by Robert Stack. The Netflix version is host-less but reunites much of the creative team behind the original series.
The result is almost nostalgic. I spent the day watching the show, and the entire experience gave me serious home sick from school watching ID Discovery vibes. Unsolved Mysteries, like any true-crime show, combines the emotional pull of loss with the salaciousness of a good mystery.
Something about this series, however, was utterly unremarkable. It spans from Georgia all the way to Nantes, beyond the usual borders of true crime shows. And yet, even with such expanded borders, the latest Netflix true-crime series fails to add anything new to the conversation. That’s not to say it isn’t good, it just doesn’t have anything new and exciting about it.
Some episodes are more engaging than others because based on our own lenses, some cases are more interesting than others. I wasn’t particularly hooked on any of the cases until the third episode, in which an entire aristocratic French family is found buried under their porch.
From there, things start to get weird. After four episodes of murder or foul-play related mysteries, the show seems to flip to UFOs. The tone of the show remains completely the same, it’s just all of the sudden instead of violent disappearances, we’re talking about an almost supernatural seeming mystery. It’s a bit of a jarring switch.
After a brief foray into the strange and supernatural, the show pivots back a mysterious and violent case for the final episode. It returns to much of the same material as the first four episodes. Someone disappears, someone turns up dead, and no one really knows what happened. People close to those involved speak about their experiences, and true to the nature of an unsolved mystery, nothing gets solved.
Rethinking True Crime
The most poignant thought that Unsolved Mysteries left with me was about how, as a society, we fetishize crime and violence for entertainment value. I say this as someone who loves true crime documentaries and police procedurals, not as a judgment on fellow fans. It’s troubling that something I find so entertaining can also seem so exploitative. Shows like these may help solve these mysteries. Allowing families to have a platform to talk about these tragedies may provide some sort of healing. However, it also may provide a great deal of false hope. It also makes entertainment out of tragedy.
There are some true crime cases — those involving grievous injustices or systematic failings — that we all need to be made aware of. Those stories need to be told until we get the message. However, none of the cases included in Unsolved Mysteries were framed in that light. Instead of exploring the criminal justice system or why these crimes happened, or any other deeper societal meaning, these cases are instead just presented as creepy stories to tell in the dark.