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Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries Reboot Ready to Satisfy Our True Crime Appetite

For years, we've been solving crimes from the comfort of our own homes, and now Netflix has rewarded us with more “Unsolved Mysteries.” The TV show, which virtually made addictive entertainment out of learning about people’s unanswered trauma, has now been rebooted by its original producers, and the people behind "Stranger Things," to join Netflix's roster of other stories about true crime. And while there might be no Robert Stack replacement to guide us, but the stories within “Unsolved Mysteries” will likely grip you just how the original show did. 

In the first six episodes that were screened for press, the series offers plenty for true crime fans to satisfy their fix. The first one might be its most curious question mark, involving a Baltimore man named Rey Rivera who somehow fell to his death from a hotel roof, despite the many physical factors that disprove it. Or, there’s the story of a family who was murdered in France, with the key suspect planting a lot of strange clues. There's also the story of a mother and wife Patrice Endres, who vanished one morning from her hair salon. Many of the tales are depicted here with care and precision, and Patrice's story has a family drama at its core that shows just how earth-shaking a crime is for anyone in close proximity. 

But like the original show, “Unsolved Mysteries” is about more than murder cases that have left incomplete life stories—it’s fifth episode, for example, documents a shared UFO experience experienced by a group of people in Massachusetts. This is one of the episodes in which no experts can really be brought in to virtually prove against any theories; instead it's about watching the people tell the story of a possible abduction experience, and the certainty in their faces. They repeat a phrase that echoes throughout the series: “I remember it like it was yesterday.” 

Arriving 10 years after the last episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” ran, this iteration is what you could call the "dark and gritty" version, even for a series that's often concerned evil. The show is updated from how you remember earlier episodes, fitting in more neatly with any worthwhile true crime documentary you can find on not just Netflix—the interviews are overcast with sullen lighting, and the spare reenactments are played with unmistakable gravity, the lack of actors' faces registering as even more ominous. And in instances like the UFO episode, the series puts a great attention to visually elaborating on the grandiosity of these individual experiences. Its shots of the subjects standing looking up to the sky are given more care than your usual B-roll, and the stories feel huge instead of just serial-sized. 

For all of the unresolved stories that are out there—and this series proves there’s a frightening amount—“Unsolved Mysteries” proves to be a great venue for these stories, giving them a just-right run-time (45 minute episodes, usually), a break from how the original show would include more than one bizarre tale in an episode. And these episodes add to their compelling quality in how they carefully provide just enough information at a time, before giving you a new motive or new character detail to chew on, without ever feeling like you’ve been tricked by what was previously shared. 

It's certainly weird watching an "Unsolved Mysteries" episode without a host, and you'll think of Stack each time you see him as a silhouette in the title card during the opening credits. Instead, “Unsolved Mysteries” takes that absence as a means to let these people guide us through their pain, a quality that has helped quality modern true crime resonate beyond a morbid circus. Watching this new version, a host just would feels like it would be nostalgic for a show that doesn’t thrive in modern times. Our true crime obsession has gotten a bit more serious, and Netflix’s "Unsolved Mysteries" is more than ready to satisfy it. 

Six episodes screened for review.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is an Assistant Editor at RogerEbert.com and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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