From TopTenz: Welcome to the first installment of (Un)Popular Culture with Jeff Kelly. Jeff will be contributing his thoughts on all things relating to pop culture on TopTenz. We are excited to offer this look into Jeff’s slightly off-kilter world.
If you think the premise of the new reality show “Whodunnit?” sounds familiar, there’s probably a good reason, specifically due to the fact that it’s basically like a dinner theater murder mystery show. For the duration of the show, I’m going to be tuning in and watching this hybrid of Clue and Survivor and giving you the top 10 things to take away each week. That’s right, I’m going to suffer through this bad boy so that you don’t have to. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
10. Of Course, the Host is a Butler Named Giles
The concept of the butler being front and center of a murder mystery is far from original, with many folks attributing the old adage of “the butler did it” to an author named Mary Roberts Rinehart, though everyone from Agatha Christie to Arthur Conan Doyle to the people who made the movie version of “Clue” have used the butler’s involvement as a central conceit. Therefore it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that the host of this particular reality show is a butler.
Well, the guy isn’t actually a butler, obviously, he’s an actor named Gildart Jackson. You may know him from his roles on shows like General Hospital or Charmed, but more than likely you may not. Last year he made something called “Zombie Hamlet” but it remains to be seen whether “Whodunnit?” is in fact a step up from whatever that nonsense was.
9. There are Two Former Detectives in the Cast
And that’s not even counting the investigative journalist and the former insurance investigator or the Homeland Security attorney. One of the detectives, Don, is a 62-year-old former homicide detective. You should really let that sink in for a few moments before watching this show, because you would think that a retired homicide detective would actually be unfairly good at this sort of thing. However, early on Don says that puzzles are his kryptonite, which probably makes you less enthused about the possibility of your hypothetical homicide being solved by whichever precinct employed this dude for such a long time.
8. There’s a Beauty Queen Named Cris Crotz
And she may or may not make you, JUMP! JUMP! This former Miss Nevada won that crown in 2010, and was a contestant in the 2011 Miss America pageant. Tangentially, her name sounds an awful lot like Kris Kross, the rap duo who gained enormous fame in the early 1990’s. Their song “Jump” got to #1 on the Billboard chart, and stayed there for eight straight weeks. It was the first rap song to stay at the top of the charts for that long in music history. They also had a song called “I Missed the Bus” but shockingly that wasn’t quite as successful, despite being just totally gangster. By the way, Cris Crotz was only 5 years old when “Jump” hit the airwaves.
7. You Can Only Investigate One of Three Areas
In one of the stranger, more restricting parts of the show, it turns out that every participant is only allowed to investigate one of three areas after each murder. Oh, did I mention there will be multiple murders? Don’t worry, I’ll get to that in a bit. Anyway, after each murder you can only check out either the murder scene, the last known whereabouts, or the morgue. Yeah, I’ll get back to this morgue thing in a bit.
Anyway, the contestants quickly break off into teams to investigate one of these three places, and early on the folks who check out the morgue find what appears to be a musket ball in the back of the victim’s (whose name is Sheri, apparently) neck, and they decide to keep this piece of information to themselves because everyone else thinks her death was caused by some combination of a fish tank and a lamp. No, really. By the way, one of these people, Dontae, almost immediately tells the camera that his way to gain trust in the game is to tell everyone what they found in the morgue, thus making himself look super suspicious to the two other people who discovered that little metal ball in Sheri’s neck. However, it doesn’t really matter what Dontae says or does, because…
6. The Killer Hates People with “DON” in Their Names
Each week, everyone sits around the dinner table boozing, eating, and basically being way too into this game for their own good. Oh, and at some point when hopefully everyone has a solid enough buzz going the butler decides to come in and ruin everything by telling everyone whether they should are “spared” or should be “scared.” Yes, it’s about as dumb as it sounds. In this first episode, only two of the contestants received notice they should be “scared.” Those two were Don, the retired homicide detective, and Dontae, the insurance investigator. So basically, it looks like it’ll boil down to the two or three worst people each week being sacrificed. Of course considering Dontae came sprinting out “on fire” at the end, leading us to believe the dude was totally an actor, it feels even more predetermined than WWE.
But hey, at least the former detective has another week to embarrass himself by being an apparently awful investigator. By the way, this seems like a good time to mention how every episode will apparently end…
5. Someone Dies Every Week
The show started with a death, and apparently every episode will end with a death. While Jeff Probst just extinguishes your torch when you get bounced from the competition in “Survivor”, apparently on “Whodunnit?” the idea is that each contestant is a torch about to be extinguished. They may have been a little on the nose when the first episode ended with Dontae, the first (second, technically) victim literally being extinguished when he was set on fire and went diving into the pool in front of his horrified fellow contestants (actors?).
Each week, after someone dies, everyone gets to check out the morgue if they so choose in order to inspect the body for any clues. This morgue exists within this mansion. Perhaps people should have suspected something was up when they agreed to go to a mansion with its own morgue?
In this first episode, it is revealed that Sheri, the original victim, was not killed by the ever dangerous fish tank (more on that in a minute) or an old fashioned musket, but by someone wielding a freaking slingshot. I wish I was making that up, but believe it or not, slingshots can actually kill you. Just ask Goliath. The person who came closest to figuring this out this first week was Sasha, the journalist, who celebrates by making what appear to be drunkenly catty remarks directed at Melina, the flight attendant. You know, because that’s a completely normal thing to do.
4. Did I Mention There’s a Bounty Hunter?
Are you familiar with “The Joe Schmo Show”? Well, it was a show that debuted 10 years ago and basically amounted to a giant prank on a nice guy named Matt Kennedy Gould, who thought he was on an actual reality show only to learn that everyone around him (including a young Kristen Wiig) was an actor. They did two seasons and then it vanished from the airwaves. At least, until very recently when they brought it back with the premise of being a reality show in which someone would win a reality contest and become an actual, certified bounty hunter. Because that’s exactly how that sort of thing works, right?
Anyway, one of the guys on “Whodunnit?” is apparently a bounty hunter, and his name is Ronnie. Considering the over the top scenarios being played out and the fact that each of the deaths is comically staged (obviously, since they probably can’t actually kill the contestants, though that would lead to better ratings), it’s hard not to think that this entire show may just be an extension of the latest season of “The Joe Schmo Show” and Ronnie the bounty hunter is just a castoff from that group. So far he has not been particularly memorable, but the again, no one on the show has been particularly memorable, which tends to happen when you try to shoehorn amateurs into a dinner theater production and act like it’s real entertainment.
By the way, did you know that bounty hunting dates back to 1679, apparently? It came about via the bail system established by the British government, and basically began in the United States in 1873 after a US Supreme Court ruling that said some certain dudes could capture fugitives for a monetary reward. So at the end of the day, we can all flip off the freaking supreme court and the UK for forcing Dog on us for all these years.
3. Fish Tanks Are Apparently Super Dangerous
One of the trends of this pilot episode is the repeated talk of how the aquarium was central to the first murder of the series. As it turns out, it apparently was not, but that didn’t stop people from wildly speculating about things ranging from “maybe it broke and she was electrocuted by the frayed wires” to the even more idiotic “maybe she somehow managed to drown in a medium sized fish tank”. What they did not talk about, however, is the fact that fish tanks really are more dangerous than you probably realize.
And why is that? Palytoxin, also known as the second deadliest poison in the world. It can be created via fish tanks as it comes from zoanthids, which are basically a kind of coral. Zoanthids release palytoxin when boiled, and it can escape in the steam and has enough potency to apparently kill up to a million mice with a single gram of the stuff. So maybe the people on “Whodunnit?” should be less worried about drowning and more worried about one of the most toxic substances in the world running rampant through the mansion?
2. The Concept is Solid, but Man is it Rough
Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? Lord knows they’ve been successful enough over the years particularly with novelists like Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as modern television shows like “CSI” and, well, every single crime procedural going, from most episodes of “Law and Order” to “Castle”. But the whole thing feels a little too loose and the pace is too slow to give the viewers any real thrills. It’s exceptionally plodding, and there’s little to no characterization other than the absolute most general. Still, people are quick to form alliances based on next to nothing, and everyone already has a suspect. Among those several suspect is Adrianna, a television crime reporter. That’s not to say that she reports on crimes against televisions, but rather that she reports on crime while she happens to be on television.
But hey, if everyone else can have a guess, why can’t I join in the fun and render my very own half-assed guess based on very, very little?
1. Predictions After the First Episode…
It’s Don, the retired homicide detective, right? Maybe he’s not even an actual former cop, which was a point someone raised at the final dinner before Dontae was “eliminated”. By the way, I forgot to mention, every episode ends with a full dinner, because I guess the best way to get people to accuse each other of murder is to get them stuffed full of good food and totally liquored up with big glasses of wine.
But here are the things that stand out about Don: he says he’s a former detective, yet puzzles baffle him, and he found himself in the bottom two on the first night. You’d expect more from a guy whose job was literally finding murderers, right? Plus, in the final scene before Dontae decided to do an imitation of the Olympic torch, and roll call was being taken, he was a late arrival, building the “tension” of the moment. What better way to throw people off your scent than being a guy who apparently sucks at his longtime job and being an early target of the killer?
By the way, if I had to predict the next victim based on this one episode, I’d say the most likely to be killed is the show itself. If it aired during the fall, I think I’d be correct. However, since there’s literally nothing else good on network television during the summer, odds are it’ll run its course and never be heard from again, despite what I’m guessing will be ratings well under 2.0 for the duration.
Written by Jeff Kelly, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook but please, don’t follow him home. Restraining orders just involve way too much paperwork. And keep reading my posts here on TopTenz under (Un)Popular Culture.