A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Unsolved Mysteries is a reality show based on the long-running series of the same name. Like the original, this series focuses on strange happenings, such as events connected with the paranormal, murders, and missing persons cases. Unlike the original, each episode focuses on one case, and there are no reenactments of crimes; the show does ask viewers to provide any information they may have about each subject, just as the first series did, which could be considered something of a public service. Some cases covered have a political bent, such as a look at the death of black man Alonzo Brooks in a white rural Kansas town, and how racism complicated his investigation. Though the main focus of the show is violent crime, actual visuals of violence are infrequent; more often, the details of deaths and injuries are described, though they may be upsetting to young or sensitive viewers. Grieving loved ones are frequently interviewed; their sadness may also be disturbing to viewers. Content focusing on sex, drinking, and drugs is also infrequent, though cases may touch on these elements. Subjects featured are diverse in terms of age, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
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What's the story?
A revamp of the original Robert Stack-hosted series that ran from 1987 to 2002, UNSOLVED MYSTERIES delves into curious cases of missing people and the supernatural, with each episode focusing on a different baffling case. Stories tackled include the puzzling suicide (or is it?) of Baltimore's Rey Rivera, the ultimate fate of Xavier DuPont de Ligonnes, the French man who disappeared after his entire family was murdered, and the series of UFO sightings in Massachussetts' Berkshires region in the late 1960s.
Is it any good?
This worthy revamp of the beloved true-crime-meets-the-paranormal series ditches the original's cheesy reenactments but retains its focus on tantalizing mysteries viewers are invited to help solve. Back in 1987 when the original premiered, true crime was a fledgling genre; now, of course, it's a media staple, with entire TV networks dedicated to awful deeds and curious happenstances, dozens of shows on both TV and streaming networks, and dozens upon dozens of popular podcasts. But what the new Unsolved Mysteries lacks in freshness, it delivers in sophisticated storytelling. Gauzy, tawdry reenactments were a staple of the first series, but the remake wisely leaves them behind in favor of focusing on taut storytelling, bringing together interviews with bereaved family members and friends with news footage, and segments filmed especially for the show that examine some of the weirder aspects of the cases it delves into.
Speaking of said cases, they're heavy on murders and missing-persons, light on the type of Bigfoot/Bermuda triangle/divine miracles fare that the first series clung to, a good news/bad news scenario. Good, the new Unsolved Mysteries has discarded the air of trashiness that clung to the original; bad, it's not as much of a dumb guilty pleasure. In fact, honing in as it does on many cases in which those affected are still alive to tell their sad stories, it can be a bit depressing -- watching a grieving mom and widow cry over the supposed suicide of a loved one is few people's idea of fun. Still, its thoughtful storytelling, crisp visuals, and the compelling invitation at the end of each episode to viewers with information to offer (there's a companion web site ready to receive tips), this version makes for grabby viewing, particular for armchair sleuths.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the media's relationship with crime. Is there a rush to report sensational stories before all the facts are evident? What effect can TV coverage have on how justice is carried out? When is it appropriate to ask the public to help find clues to a crime? How do you think law enforcement officials follow up on the leads generated by the show?
Does Unsolved Mysteries make you feel any empathy for the people in the cases it covers? Is it supposed to? How does the show signal you who to feel for? Are criminal suspects treated the same by the show as those who have lost friends or family members?
Do reality shows like this one teach viewers anything about personal safety? Is it necessary to focus on violent crimes in order to impart these lessons? Does the show treat the cases it covers delicately, or is it graphic and offensive? Is the focus and vibe different than the original series? How?
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