Unsolved Mysteries: Back and Better Than Ever

A scene from the “Berkshire’s UFO” episode of Unsolved Mysteries (Netflix)
Drop what you’re doing and watch it now, children of the ’90s.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE U nsolved Mysteries was huge when I was a kid. Every week, and more often once it went into syndication, it would walk viewers through a handful of absolutely bonkers stories. People who’d disappeared in the middle of the day for no apparent reason. UFO sightings. Even Bigfoot! Robert Stack would host and narrate, interview subjects would explain what happened, and actors — often the actual people who’d lived the events — would reenact any key situations for which there wasn’t video. Back in my day, believe it or not, many important happenings were not captured via cell-phone cameras.

Most TV shows, even the unsettling ones, give you some sort of release at the end. Not Unsolved Mysteries; that was the whole point. These were whodunnits with confounding fact patterns, and the facts had to fit together somehow, since they were true, but you never found out how — because no one knew, at least no one willing to come forward. The show would just paint a picture horrifying enough to keep you up at night, and then walk away.

Like most shows, though, Unsolved Mysteries overstayed its welcome eventually and went off the air. After nearly a decade on NBC, it hopped over to CBS and then Lifetime for a bit before petering out. Spike brought it back in the late 2000s, with cop-turned-actor Dennis Farina as host, but that didn’t last either.

Well, now it’s back again, with Netflix behind it — and this time it’s amazing. The creators (including John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer, who spearheaded the original) did an excellent job of picking cases to cover and updating the format. Seriously, just go watch it.

The biggest change is that there’s no narrator at all. The interview subjects, archival footage, and reenactments speak for themselves. The reboot also goes into a bit more depth; each episode is nearly an hour long and covers only a single case. And while the old piano theme song returns, it’s been re-recorded without the awesome ’80s synthesizer effects that every TV intro had circa 1990. Overall, this has pretty much the same sleek, professional, non-trashy feel that any other Netflix true-crime series does.

At first I was worried these tweaks would kill the nostalgia the series instantly evokes for me, but nah: These cases are every bit as freaky as the classics, and that’s what matters. A more modern format just makes the show accessible to new audiences who weren’t lucky enough to fall in love with the original.

There’s no way to demonstrate this without spoilers, so seriously, just go watch it. But if you’ve already seen the show or don’t mind a preview, here are the two episodes — one true-crime, one extraterrestrial — that hit me hardest.

“Mystery on the Rooftop” addresses the 2006 death of Rey Rivera in Baltimore. With his wife out of town on a business trip, Rivera received a phone call, left his house in a hurry, and never came back. His car was eventually found near the Belvedere Hotel — which by that point had been converted to condos — and his body was found in a conference room there. With a hole in the ceiling he’d apparently crashed through.

There are several places above the room he could have come from, including a higher roof and a ledge, and suicide is one possible explanation — but it’s not clear how he’d have gotten to those places or how he could have launched himself from them at an arc that ended up where he landed. Both his glasses and his cell phone were found on the roof he crashed through . . . unbroken. No security video or witness testimony place him anywhere inside the hotel; no one saw or heard the fall, so his body sat for days before it was discovered; and the outdoor camera that would have been most helpful wasn’t running. The company he worked for is located nearby, but a close friend and coworker of his won’t talk to the police, and neither will anyone else who works there. An incredibly odd, cryptic note, printed in a tiny font, was found taped to his computer but does not mention suicide or explain much of anything. A money clip he always carried with him is missing.

This is a perfect Unsolved Mysteries case, because it’s impossible to have all those facts in your head without spinning crazy theories. Did someone drop him out of a f***ing helicopter and then plant his belongings on the roof? (Credit to a friend of mine for that one.)

And you don’t have to feel guilty about reducing a real person’s tragic death to mere entertainment, either, because the show might prompt someone with information to come forward. Okay, you should probably feel a little bit guilty, but shows like Unsolved Mysteries and its true-crime contemporary America’s Most Wanted have in fact solved some crimes, and that counts for something, right? They even provide a website where you can submit tips!

The other standout is “Berkshire’s UFO.” This one covers a bizarre 1969 incident in Berkshire County, Mass., in which numerous people from several towns reported bright lights and a flying saucer, and several even claimed to have been abducted. Oddly enough, while everyone in the area seems to know about it — and apparently lots of people called into a local radio station to discuss it — there is no surviving contemporary documentation: The radio broadcast was taped over, the newspapers didn’t report on the incident, and the police records from that time don’t mention it.

These kinds of stories might not freak out an adult in 2020 the way they freaked out kids in 1993, but one wonders what could have possibly happened to cause so many people to report such weird occurrences. Or was it really aliens?

Seriously, just watch it.

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