Murder mysteries are nothing new on TV, but the allure of transferring them to a reality TV format is still alive and well. While a few networks have attempted to craft a series around staged crimes, none have been successful. Tonight, ABC gives it a shot with the debut of “Whodunnit?” although today’s round of reviews are so far very unsure of its chances of survival.
Summer series by definition are risky as they are designed to air during a time where audiences have checked out of their usual viewing habits in favor of the beach and the great outdoors. Still reality TV has done very well in the summer as “Survivor,” “Dancing With The Stars” and “American Idol” all started out during that timeframe and never looked back!
“Whodunnit?” comes from the mind “CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker, who is no stranger to devising horrific crime scenes and scenarios on a weekly basis. Here, he sets up a situation where 13 contestants head to Rue Manor, a California estate where they are told they’ll be playing a mystery game for a $250,000 reward. The cast though has no idea what they are in for as everything radically changes within in the first ten minutes of the episode.
Comprised of a bounty hunter, a lawyer, a former homicide cop and a few other people with jobs straight out of a mystery novel, the cast is led around by the Manor’s butler Giles (Gildart Jackson) who informs them he has been hired by the unknown killer to help orchestrate the game. It’s a creepy twist, but it works for the show as having a proper “host” would just seem out of place.
Although a number of critics think the whole thing is a little out of place based on today’s reviews of tonight’s opener:
“Ever been to one of those murder-mystery dinner theaters? That’s roughly the experience of watching “Whodunnit?” an especially brain-numbing ABC summer reality show.” Brian Lowry, Variety
“There’s nothing wrong with setting a murder mystery under the laughing skies of Southern California, but you need to go more April Smith than Agatha Christie.” Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times
“The problem with shows like this is that even if the game is diverting, it’s all so patently phony that it’s hard to muster up much of a rooting interest in who solves or even wins the game.” Matt Roush, TV Guide
To their points, yes it is hard to take interest in a show where everything is staged and people are asked to forget they know better. Yet summer TV is meant to be an escape from reality, it just begs the question of how much of an escape are people too willing to buy into.