Unsolved Mysteries is not your typical true-crime docuseries. For one, it's not technically a crime series at all—there's an entire episode devoted to a small rural Massachusetts community who experienced the same UFO sighting on a regular September night in 1969.
Two, the Netflix series, a reboot of the ‘90s juggernaut that aired for 23 years on various networks, has no interest in closure. Well, that’s not exactly true—Unsolved Mysteries has no interest in giving you closure. Each viscous murder, mysterious death, disappearance, or supernatural occurrence ends exactly as the title suggests.
The goal: for viewers to go full-on Veronica Mars or, more likely, have an actual connection to the case and call in tips to help close it for good. While this might sound like a shot in the dark, Unsolved Mysteries has a track record of success with this format. According to Terry Dunn Meurer, executive producer and one of the show's original creators, Unsolved Mysteries helped solve over 260 cases.
“Ever since the series went off the air, we wanted to bring it back,” Meurer told me over the phone. “There's always so many mysteries out there that need to be solved. Every day there's new ones. It's just a passion and a mission for us to try and solve as many as we can.”
With this in mind, some of these compact, 45 minute documentaries are unsettling, but ultimately leave little lasting impression amongst the throngs of similar stories on Netflix alone. Next to Tiger King or Making a Murderer, a couple of the episodes feel downright boring. Sorry, I just prefer my UFOs on the CW.
But others will grip you tight and make you desperate for more information. Not a day has gone by since watching that I have not thought about the murder of Rey Rivera, a man who plunged to his death through a hole in the ceiling of the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. His poor, wonderful family! Was he dropped from a helicopter?! Seriously, wtf?
Unsolved Mysteries, "Mystery on the Rooftop."
However, unlike Dateline, 20/20, or whatever other moderated crime show your mom watches before she goes to sleep, Unsolved Mysteries is hardly a passive viewing experience. “It's an experience for people to watch these stories and put themselves in the place of these people,” Meurer explains. “If you were Ellison Rivera, and you're standing on the roof, looking at where your husband's body landed, what would that feel like?”
By choosing to eschew a host or the overdramatic reenactments of earlier seasons, the reboot puts the people most effected by its stories front and center. “We wanted to actual people whose mysteries these are about to be their own storytellers,” Meurer says.
Each episode is made for them, not for shock value or to feed our collective morbid fascination with murder and drama. And yet, you won't want to switch them off or absentmindedly fiddle with your phone.
So no, Unsolved Mysteries is not as flashy as Tiger King and it definitely doesn't feature a Joe Exotic or Carole Baskin, but honestly? That's a good thing.
Stream Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix.
Emily Tannenbaum is a freelance writer and the weekend editor at Glamour. Follow her on Twitter.
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