Unlocking the Truth

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Unlocking the Truth TV Poster Image
Reality show follows effort to help the wrongly convicted.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

People can be wrongly accused, convicted by the criminal justice system. Getting exonerated is difficult. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ryan and Eva want to help exonerate the wrongfully convicted.


Murder, vicious assaults, other violent crimes discussed. Occasional crime scene photos shown but are not gory.


"Damn," "hell." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the documentary crime series Unlocking the Truth explores violent, real-life crime stories about people who have been brutally attacked and murdered, in conjunction with the stories of those serving time for the crimes. It points to the fact that the criminal justice system can fail due to mishandled investigations, flawed legal representation, and other, complex reasons. Occasional strong words include "damn," and sometimes crime scene photos are shown. Organizations like the Exoneration Project, Midwest Innocence Project, and the Innocence Project are featured.

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What's the story?

The documentary series UNLOCKING THE TRUTH follows two people passionately seeking justice reform by reinvestigating cases that may have led to wrongful convictions. Ryan Ferguson, who was exonerated in 2013 after serving 10 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and Eva Nagao of the Exoneration Project reexamine the individual cases of three inmates who say they're innocent. Michael Politte, Kalvin Michael Smith, and Byron Case are serving long prison sentences for crimes that include arson, brutal assault, and murder. They reexamine investigative procedures and conduct interviews with families, friends, experts, and lawyers trying to uncover new details that will shed new light on their cases. Throughout the process, they note some of the problems that exist within the criminal justice system, including a reliance on faulty witness statements, racism, and a mishandling of key evidence. It's painstaking and difficult, but Ryan and Eva want to make sure that those who are innocent of a crime don't spend their lives in prison paying for it. 

Is it any good?

This series dramatically examines criminal cases that may have led to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of innocent people. Unlocking the Truth presents conversations about evidence, as well as interviews with people involved in each case. New technologies and techniques not available during the initial investigations are also used to uncover new information. But despite Ryan and Eva's passion for seeking justice, there's little they can do for any of the inmates beyond passing information on to their respective lawyers so they can motion to have the verdicts set aside, seek new trials, and continue to make the case for their innocence. 

Ryan's stories about the hopelessness he felt while in prison, and the long and difficult road leading to his exoneration, serve as an emotional backdrop for each investigation. This, combined with the contemporary soundtracks played throughout each episode, sometimes makes it feel more like a reality show than a documentary series. There are also moments that serve as an indictment of the criminal justice system. Nonetheless, the show succeeds at underscoring the fact that there are many innocent people serving time for crimes they did not commit and that there are people willing to help them. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the reasons people may be wrongly convicted for a crime. Do things like a person's race, class, and gender contribute to whether or not someone is found guilty of something they didn't do? How often does it happen? What things can be done to keep this from happening?

  • The time and effort it takes to have a court exonerate someone is extensive and expensive. What kind of help do volunteer organizations such as the Exoneration Project offer? What motivates lawyers and others to donate their time and expertise to help inmates they don't personally know? 

TV details

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