The original Unsolved Mysteries began in 1987 and continued for 11 seasons before being cancelled in 1999, being aired first on NBC and then for two years on CBS. It was later resurrected by Spike from 2007 to 2010 (something I wasn’t aware of until just now).
The episodes features a host, who presented stories about cold cases, paranormal phenomena, and conspiracy theories — related through a combination of reenactments and interview segments from witnesses, officers, and other folks. At the end of each episode, viewers were urged to to get in contact with Unsolved Mysteries if they have any new information about the case.
Netflix has now rebooted the show, which launched on July 1st. The reboot features a slightly altered format, eschewing the host in favor of diving directly into the story. It also focuses more on interviews from witnesses and officials than on reenactments. As a result, this new iteration of Unsolved Mysteries foregoes sensationalism, feeling more grounded than what I remember.
Five out of the six episodes focus on cold cases, relating the life of the victim and the events leading up to and after their disappearance and presumed murder. Family and friends, along with police officials, relate their own memories of the events, as what little evidence available is laid out for the viewers — as a result, grief weighs heavy. Rather than the thrill of danger (although that is subtly present, too), the episodes evoke regret for actions not taken and ultimately an immense sense of loss.
“No Ride Home” is particularly poignant in today’s cultural climate, since Alonzo Brooks was likely the victim of a hate crime. One night Brooks attends a part in La Cygne, Kansas, a party in which he was the only Black man present (a fact that did not go unnoticed, with racial slurs heard) — after which he disappears. The family believes the locals in La Cygne may have covered up the crime by hiding the body and then placing it in a creek.
Another episode that deeply impacted me was “Missing Witness,” in which a young mother Lena Chapin, who claims to have witnessed her mother murder her stepfather, suddenly vanishes. The horror of these events come directly from the suspicion that a parent could take the life of their own child. Seeing the sisters express their own fear of their mother and their own determination to now speak out was heartbreaking.
One episode focused on the paranormal, “Berkshires UFO,” in which residents of Berkshire County, Massachusetts share their experience of encountering a UFO in 1969. Although the episode includes reenactments with bright, blinding lights coming out of the dark, it does not presume to show the shape of the craft. Rather, it too remains grounded in the voices of the people who experienced the event. The episode doesn’t side one way or the other as to whether the UFO, letting the residents relating their own uncertainties and fears about the experience and asserting their own belief in its reality.
Hope seems to be a driving force of these episodes — particularly the cold cases. The family members and friends left behind in the wake of a tragedy are determined to find the truth, and as they speak out of their sorrow and loss, they express the hope that someone out there will help them reach that truth.
“Unsolved Mysteries has always represented hope,” Terry Dunn Meurer, writer and producer of the show, told the New York Times. “That’s why we do the show: The hope is that we’re going to solve these cases.”
According to Variety the next batch of Unsolved Mysteries episodes have been shot and edited, featuring ghost stories along with the cold cases. The new episodes are expected to be released later this year.