The Netflix revival of “Unsolved Mysteries,” the classic true-crime series that aired from 1987 to 2002, began in 2020. Host Robert Stack asked viewers to “help solve a mystery,” and the show’s original run — along with “America’s Most Wanted” and “Rescue 911” — helped spark a national interest in real crime.
Netflix’s relaunch was perceived as another attempt by the streaming service to capitalize on the power of nostalgia. However, the show’s first season lacked the charm of the original series, focusing on one mystery every episode and relying heavily on murder and disappearances.
“Unsolved Mysteries,” now in its third season, is finally resembling the beloved original, blending unexplained murders and disappearances with episodes focused on UFOs and ghosts — though there’s still no sign of “Unsolved” staple “Lost Loves,” which focused on reuniting adopted children with their families. Even as it establishes itself as a series, “Unsolved Mysteries” feels worlds apart from the conventional Netflix true crime documentaries that the service produces every month.
As Netflix shifts away from acquiring existing IP in favor of generating new content, “Unsolved Mysteries” feels even more out of place, especially in comparison to other true crime documentaries. In comparison to the glut of shows about serial killers and cults currently on Netflix, “Unsolved Mysteries” feels almost familiar.
The success of the first series was due in large part to its focus on real people and real mysteries. “Whenever feasible, actual family members and police authorities have collaborated in recreating the events,” according to the opening title card. And those witnesses were biased towards the working class, ordinary folks dealing with everyday horror stories like a child going missing from a public park.
Because there were no paranormal professionals present, even the UFO and ghost episodes felt relatable. In many cases, the events were decades old and there was no video evidence.
The simplicity of “Unsolved Mysteries” held it in the hearts of its followers, and the third volume of the remake gets the closest to capturing that sensation. The release of three episodes in a row — one on a disappearance, another on UFOs, and one on a murder gives newbies to the series a broad sense of what “Unsolved Mysteries” is about while rectifying the criticism that Season 1 was too heavy on murder.
It’s also advantageous for the show to combine recent crimes with an unsolved UFO sighting from the 1980s. The allure of “Unresolved Mysteries” is how many mysteries can go unsolved for decades.
If anything, the relaunch should lean more heavily on that, possibly by revisiting a mystery from the first series. With the potential to dedicate 45-50 minutes to a mystery, the Netflix series might delve into a previous tale, possibly interviewing the original interview subjects about how their lives have altered since the original airing.
“Unsolved Mysteries” is a perfect example of how a nostalgic relaunch can pay homage to its predecessor while still establishing a strong case for its continued existence.
The show has a significant advantage over other true crime documentaries that dwell on the gruesome details by leaning on the original’s grasp of contemporary fears and focusing on the normal amid the abnormal. If only they could find a host who could match Robert Stack’s frightening narration.
Every Tuesday, Netflix releases an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.”