Perhaps the greatest reason to stay home on a weekday is the television. Back to back Law and Order, an array of my favorite cooking shows, old sitcoms, game shows, the A-Team…it’s all wonderful. But I’ve finally settled on the absolute best daytime television viewing option ever: Unsolved Mysteries.
Let me break it down.
The theme song: I remember when UM (Unsolved Mysteries from henceforth) was on at night, I believe on Thursdays, and I’d watch it religiously. And without a doubt, especially when I was home alone, I’d be sitting upstairs in my parent’s creaky, old TV room completely terrified by the intro credits alone. Even watching them at 11am today, that bizarre, synthesized song gives me the creeps. I love it.
Segments: Each segment is introduced by a fabulous 1980’s graphic letting us know what type of mystery we’d be hearing about. The best is obviously “Unexplained Death” or “Past Life Memories” and the most boring are always “Lost Love” or worse, some kind of stupid treasure hunt involving hand held metal detectors and old men in bolo ties obsessed with bizarre skirmishes of the Wild West.
The host: Robert Stack, in every scene, in every episode is always dressed like McGruff the Crime Dog. Better than the extreme seriousness with which he takes each segment, better than his gruff tone when detailing the sins of “Fugitives,” better even than his immense hatred of Red State con-men who bilk little old ladies our of their life savings is the fact that he introduces each segment by walking around the most random places. He could be giving us the details on “Noreen,” taken from her backwoods family farm by cruel, meddling Depression-era social workers and trying to find any of the 16 brothers and sisters she hasn’t seen since, and he’ll be walking through Safeway. Or he could introduce “Imelda” who believes she was a plantation slave in 1852 and he’ll be strolling through a meat-packing plant. I just this very moment watched him introduce “Wendy” looking for the anonymous good Samaritan who comforted her as her grandmother was hit and killed by a car in Modesto and he was strolling through a courtroom. COURT WAS IN SESSION. Not one of the 10 people in the courtroom appeared to notice Robert Stack, hands shoved in his trench coat pockets, wandering around talking to TV cameras. I mean, these are clearly people hired to pretend to be in the middle of some big court case and no one bats an eyelash or, as I would, wonders aloud, “Who the fuck is Dragnet over here, and where’s all this mist coming from?”
Re-enactments: One day, if you’ve lived a good life and been a kind person, karma will bless you with the Matthew McConaughy episode of UM, in which he re-enacts a crime and gets shot by a man masturbating in a pick-up truck. 100% of UM segments involve horribly acted, filmed, costumed and produced re-enactments and I love each and every one of them.
Interviews: You are only allowed to have your mystery featured on UM if you’re the ugliest person alive, missing teeth, have a mullet, look oddly old for your age, are wearing a banana clip and/or require the anonymity of silhouette/voice disguise. No one who has graduated from college has ever been on UM. In any capacity. Ever. Most of them can’t even read.
Keely Shaye Smith: Keely and her wonderfully fluctuating ass-size are married to Pierce Brosnan, which makes her really interesting to me. Keely’s not allowed out of the “Call Center” where she fills us in with Updates and Reunions. We only get to see Keely if the mystery is being solved and is thus, if you ask me, no longer interesting. Keely is also in charge of handing the phone to “Noreen” after one of her 16 brothers or sisters excitedly phones the call center.
Finally, the best part of UM is that everyone involved thinks there’s actually doing some good. Like, they don’t exist purely for my entertainment. Hello? Their re-runs are exclusively on Lifetime, Television for Women. And people still call in! Decades later! Isn’t that wonderful. Like somewhere in Arkansas, some woman in blue eye shadow and every one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books thinks she recognizes a re-enactor ripping off a convenience store and rushes to the phone to call Keely or, as instructed, her local and state authorities.
Pure television gold…