Woman in red dress
This photo is from the official trailer of “America's Most Wanted,” produced by Fox

1,186. That’s the number of fugitives Fox’s true-crime series “America’s Most Wanted” has helped catch. With help from the show’s viewers, 17 criminals from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List have been tracked down and 43 missing children have been reunited with their families. With the use of modern-day technology, the hope is that the show’s 2021 revival will continue to help see justice served.

Although the show first aired in 1988 and was canceled twice, the series was Fox’s longest-running program, having lasted for 25 seasons. Now, with its return to the network, journalist Elizabeth Vargas (“Good Morning America”) has taken over John Walsh’s role as host. An avid watcher of “AMW” herself, Vargas is ready to turn viewers into detectives and reunite Americans as they collectively work to put some of the country’s most dangerous people behind bars.

The pilot focuses primarily on a few select fugitives from cold cases. One is Glen Godwin, a drug trafficker and murder who escaped from multiple American prisons. He has now been on the run for over 30 years after escaping from a prison in Mexico. Another is Eugene Palmer, a man who fled after he shot and killed his daughter-in-law. In addition to these cases, the show highlights more recent crimes like the dog-nappers who have been assaulting people and stealing their pets, including singer Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs

In asking for its audience’s help, “AMW” creates an opportunity for each individual to be a sleuth from the comfort of their own home. For instance, by using modern technology (such as 3-D avatars), the viewer can see a very realistic and up-to-date visual of the criminal, thus making them better informed on who to keep an eye out for. This transforms “AMW” into an interactive series of sorts.

With society’s ongoing fascination with true crime and the recent spike in the production of crime documentaries, it only makes sense that Fox would bring back “AMW.” However, after being canceled not once, but twice, it’s natural to question whether this reboot was truly necessary. 

Similar to “Criminal Minds” and “Law & Order,” actors are used to reenact the crimes. However, unlike these other fictional crime shows, “AMW” focuses on real cases that remain unsolved. Unfortunately, this means that the episodes do not conclude on a satisfying, positive note. 

This poses an issue to impatient, modern-day viewers who prefer knowing, in an hour’s time, all questions will be answered. “AMW” is more like a PSA: alerting its audience about dangerous people who continue to walk the streets and rehashing cold cases that have remained unsolved for decades. There is not always a happily ever after. 

As with many true crime shows, the reenactments in “AMW” are subpar, and the interviews are unbearably awkward. With that in mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to take these criminals and their actions seriously. Ideally, this series is a gift to law enforcement, giving them additional eyes and ears in order to facilitate the hunt for these wanted fugitives. Realistically, though, calling the “AMW” hotline to report a man who looks suspiciously like the three-decade-old mugshot of Glen Godwin feels rather ineffective. 

The reason true-crime series have become so popular cannot only be attributed to the strange affinity people have for serial killers and psychopaths. It’s also because each story is presented in such a way that the audience takes the cases, victims and criminals very seriously, even if they’re fictional. In order for “AMW” to be regarded similarly, the over-the-top reenactments of the crimes need to go; instead, Vargas should present each real-life case much like a profiler would, utilizing facts and data. In doing so, the crimes will be more personalized and engaging, allowing the series to be taken as seriously as it should be.

Truthfully, almost any show would suffice in assisting the endless boredom brought about by a pandemic. Unfortunately, for a show like “AMW,” these circumstances are less than ideal: Quarantining and face masks make for an even trickier time to spot America’s most wanted criminals. In order for the series to survive, the upcoming episodes need to seem less like a reality TV show, and more like the true-crime television that they aim to be.

Daily Arts Writer Molly Hirsch can be reached at mohirsch@umich.edu