- Movie Rating -

Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries (2020)

| July 3, 2020

To be perfectly honest, I tend to back away from reboot nostalgia, especially when it involves an 80s perennial.  I am always asking: why remake good stuff?  Well, riding that train of thought, I pulled up to Netflix’s reboot of ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ loaded with skepticism.  During my high school years, this was my Wednesday night appointment, and I figured that after running for 10 years on NBC, what could Netflix possibly add?

Well, happy to say, it adds a lot to the format because the new Netflix show doesn’t try to duplicate success of the old series.  Instead it tries to reshape it for the new millennium.  Instead of a magazine-style presentation with a host (the late Robert Stack is honored in the opening credits), this new edition is reshaped for the streaming era. Each episode deals with only one story and instead of a new host, the stories are told by the people who lived them.  The approach is very cinematic, like a very engrossing and intimate documentary.

That intimacy is immediately clear in the first episode “Mystery on the Rooftop”, the dark and chilling tale of Rey Rivera, a Baltimore writer who disappeared one night only to turn up dead in the conference room of the Belvedere Hotel with brutal injuries to his body and a hole in the roof.  Police assume that he jumped off the roof but the police and the family explain, in exhaustive common sense detail, how this could not have been possible.

The second episode, “13 Minutes”, is shaped a bit differently, dealing with the case of Patrice Endres, a pretty Georgia beautician who disappeared from her salon one day and turned up in the woods almost a year later.  What is curious here is that what starts as missing person case gets deeper and creeper as we get to know the family members.  As they tell their story the difficulties in their relationships bubble to the surface and we, the viewer, get a clearer picture of what might have happened.  Without giving anything away the closing few minutes of this episode bodes one of the weirdest pseudo-confessionals you’ll ever see.  I won’t say another word.

Episode three, “House of Terror,” will throw you for a loop, and not just because it has subtitles.  It moves to the streets of France for a story about a wealthy aristocratic family that simply disappears one day with a variety of very convenient clues turning up along the way.  It is unusual because while ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ traditionally sticks to the American heartland, this one makes the show’s scope more worldwide.

Episode four, “No Ride Home,” is probably the most current, the achingly sad story of a young black man, Alonzo Brooks, living in Kansas who is left alone at a party in the middle of nowhere and goes missing for several weeks.  Was he the victim of racism?  If so by who?  Was the family being shielded from the case by a wall of racism?  What is interesting is that it raises questions of racism without hammering them down, leaving the viewer to decide for themselves.

Episode five would seem to be the outlier of this first season, dealing with the witnesses of a series of UFO sightings in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on the night of September 1, 1969.  In “Berkshires UFO”, The producers of the show go to great pains not to turn this into a farce with a lot of cheesy special effects and ominous music.  Instead, much of the focus is on the witnesses who truly believe that they shared a common experience, that they have touched The Other and were forever changed by it.  They are presented with a lot of respect and tenderness even while their stories seem wildly far-fetched.

The last episode,” Missing Witness”, may be the most engrossing but ultimately the most frustrating given that it remains unsolved.  It tells a labyrinthine family plot about Sandy Kemp, a husband-hopping mother of six who became implicated in the murder of her husband in order to marry her boyfriend and then came under investigation when the witness, her daughter Lena Chapin, went missing several years later.  This episode was the most unpredictable, winding nearly two decades of family drama and trauma into an emotional journey for those left behind.

What I found most refreshing about this new series is the time given to each story, which sets it apart from the dozens of forensic shows currently running on basic cable.  Again, the new ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ has been reshaped for a streaming audience, meaning that since each episode runs without commercials and deals with only a single case, the presentation is much better.  The stories are allowed to breathe and there is time to get to know the participants first-hand.  Each story weaves together a fascinating cast of characters that in a shorter format might have made the episodes feel like a truncated news piece.  As it is, we get the story, the people and the full emotional weight of what they are going through.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized