‘Unsolved Mysteries’ returns with a chilling new season

Sunday, October 25, 2020 - 5:27pm

NOSELL

Netflix

Netflix is no stranger to true-crime documentaries. Shows like “Making a Murderer,” “Evil Genius” and even “Tiger King” have defined the streaming service as the new hub for all things spooky and sinister. With the newest episodes of “Unsolved Mysteries” now on the platform, the standard of their true-crime content has only increased. 

Originally airing in 1987 on NBC, “Unsolved Mysteries” has been revived for over a dozen seasons on various networks and media platforms. In 2020, the classic series found its new home on Netflix with a revitalized style, a bigger budget and even wilder stories of unexplained phenomena. The new volume of episodes premiered this October to complete its fifteenth season on the air.

The first episode of this second volume, entitled “Washington Insider Murder,” incorporates all the elements that have made the show an American staple. The story recounts the suspicious murder of former White House aide and prominent advocate for veterans Jack Wheeler. Following his family’s Christmas celebration in 2010, Wheeler left for work. In a few days, his badly beaten body would be found in a Delaware landfill. Despite him having one of the most powerful personal networks in the country, the investigation into Wheeler’s death yielded few results.

Every interview, from family members to D.C. insiders, echoes the same absolute confusion at how the prominent defense industry figure could be killed without any clue explaining why. Throughout the episode, journalists and law enforcement retrace Wheeler’s last steps as his increasingly erratic behavior raises questions about whether his death was a coincidence or carefully orchestrated. Nearly unbelievable plot twists occur in nearly every moment of the premiere. What do a stolen briefcase of government secrets, a smoke-bombing incident and ransacked spice cabinets have in common? No one knows, and that’s the premise of the show. Your guess is as good as theirs.

“Washington Insider Murder” includes every “Unsolved Mysteries” trope viewers have come to expect: a sympathetic victim, a strange trail of evidence and enough wild speculation to keep things interesting. However, the modern update to the series allows viewers to examine these cold cases from a more critical perspective. Many Americans consider the true-crime genre part of their daily entertainment, and there seems to be an insatiable demand for more disturbing content with every Netflix docu-series that premieres.

The lasting presence of “Unsolved Mysteries” is not surprising, given its ability to adapt to audience expectations. While shows like “Dateline” and “Forensic Files” are often the subjects of parody, the Netflix reboot has avoided falling into old habits and balances its signature tropes with increased production value and unique stories in each episode.

In capturing the nostalgia of the original, more campy series, this more serious version of the show is able to capitalize on what made the viewers of 1987 love it while still adapting for the audience of 2020. The fresh episodes of “Unsolved Mysteries” will most likely captivate Netflix users and draw attention to its titular stories, at least until the next true-crime sensation hits the Internet.

Daily Arts Contributor Anya Soller can be reached at anyasol@umich.edu.

 


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