Netflix doc series deemed worthy of Unsolved Mysteries mantle

Everybody loves a good mystery. There is something irresistibly tantalizing about the unknown that drives all discovery as well as an undeniable rush when the answers one is looking for are finally unearthed. 

Mysteries can also be frustrating, heartbreaking and disturbing, however, particularly when they go unsolved. I, for one, like my mysteries in books and television to be tied up in nice little bows at their conclusions because real life’s mysteries are often a bit more complicated. I do it for the escapism; in other words, at the end, Sherlock Holmes concludes that the mastermind is Moriarty, Rosebud turns out to be a sled, and the ghost chasing Scooby and the gang is unmasked and happens to be the owner of the decrepit amusement park. 

Going into Netflix’s first “volume” of Unsolved Mysteries, I therefore had to prepare myself for the fact that these are, well, unsolved mysteries. I for sure wasn’t going to solve them as an audience member, and I would have to be content with the questions without the eventual answers. 

I’m glad I set this doubt aside, because Unsolved Mysteries turned out to be engaging, if not perfect, television.

The name of the show might be familiar to some: Although marketed as “Vol. 1,” Netflix’s first six episodes of Unsolved Mysteries is actually a continuation of a long-running series that has already had 14 seasons spread across NBC, CBS, Lifetime and Spike TV. This time there is no narrator and each episode focuses on a single case, but the legacy is still obvious to those who have seen past seasons. In the case of theme, however, this turned out to be a bit detrimental. Those familiar with past iterations of Unsolved Mysteries can tell you that the show featured a combination of grounded true-crime stories and those that are supernatural in nature. At first, it appears as if the Netflix version has decided to buck the latter and stick with the former, but then the UFO episode starts five hours in and you realize this is not the case. I’m not a fan of the combination, personally; I occasionally enjoy true-crime stories and am an admitted sucker for anything that talks about the possibility of aliens, but putting the two together just didn’t sit right with me. 

Although I had some issues with the organization, preferring that each episode have a stronger hook at the beginning to get my attention instead of just jumping into a backstory with no indication of what the case actually is, Unsolved Mysteries is, overall, not boring and actually enjoyable. Shot in documentary format, each episode includes small reenactments of events (I was worried that they might be silly and overdramatic, but they turned out to be quite understated and respectful) and also does an admirable job of giving the viewer enough info rmation to think they cracked the case before tossing in new information that throws those assumptions out the window. It makes the viewer feel as if they’re discovering the evidence themselves bit by bit, engaging the armchair detective in all of us. As previously stated, I do not expect to “help solve a mystery” as the tagline says, but that’s not the point, is it? We like to be tantalized, and consider me tantalized. 

Unsolved Mysteries Vol. 1 (or season 15, depending on how you look at it) is now available on Netflix.