Whodunnit? – Episode 1 Review

 

Aww yeah, a new murder mystery reality TV show!  Honestly, lately I had been thinking that shows like The Mole and Murder in Small Town X could only have existed in a small moment in time (early 2000’s/beginning of the reality TV boom), and this show could certainly be a big flop, but I’m really excited that people are still willing to try stuff like this.  I’m planning on writing a post with my thoughts after each episode, so get watching and follow along!

Each episode will be posted on Hulu the day after airing and will remain available for 35 days.  Sweet!  I probably won’t give a full re-cap of the events of each episode (I’d rather you just watched for yourself!), but I will definitely be posting lots of spoilers, so watch out.  You can watch the first episode here.  Watch out when navigating the Hulu page for the show, it looks like they’re posting video interviews of the players who got murdered, so the thumbnails are a big spoiler.

Here is what I knew about the show before watching the premiere on Sunday night:

  • 13 players brought to a mansion to solve a murder each week and discover the killer among them (wasn’t clear if it would actually be one of the contestants)
  • $250,000 prize
  • All players face an elimination each week where they are either “Spared” or “Scared.”  One of the Scared players becomes the next victim.
  • None of the contestants are under 27 years old (big departure from shows like The Mole)
  • Butler named “Giles” is the host

I had also heard a negative review, that the premiere didn’t pack much of a punch and didn’t allow for enough solving at home.

So I think I went into the show pretty fresh, but very optimistic.  I want to like this show very badly, to the point where I’ll probably overlook the bad parts to enjoy the good parts.

The players toast the house
The players toast the house

First, I want to talk a bit about the contestants.  Since most of the reality TV I’ve watched was filmed 10 or more years ago, everything felt a little different.  The contestants all seemed a bit heavily made-up (Real Housewives comes to mind).  Since the entire show takes place at a fancy mansion, everyone is able to keep their appearance maintained, unlike The Mole, for example, where players were constantly on the move and doing outdoor physical challenges.  It’s taking a little getting used to.  I like when reality shows have players dress up, like for the dinner before an elimination, but I didn’t like that the women were all lagging behind during the puzzle portion because of their sky-high heels and tight cocktail dresses.  Maybe that will change next week.

On the less shallow side of things, I thought it was interesting that all of the contestants have backgrounds that might be useful in the game.  Crime reporter, ex-homicide detective, attorney, journalist, etc.  Even the bar trivia host and flight attendant players might have an edge in a show where puzzles, trivia, and specific knowledge (geography, for example) might be involved.  Though having the first victim (planted) be a cheerleader, and then mocking her about it, seemed a bit tacky.

I was surprised that the show will basically use the hook of The Mole, where the killer will presumably be a plant among the players.  It could be a trick of some sort (the butler did it), but for now I’m operating under the assumption that one of the players is the Mole–I mean murderer.

The production quality of the show seems to be outstanding.  The mansion is obviously gorgeous.  The gore on the victims is realistic, though maybe a little bit disturbing.  Production quality also extends to the little things, like all the players getting matching navy pajamas (how cute!).

giles
Giles addresses the players

Structure is important.  Looks like the show will follow the following format, or something similar:

  1. MURDER:  A player is murdered, everyone briefly witnesses the crime scene.
  2. INVESTIGATION:  The remaining players split up into three groups to investigate the Crime Scene, the Last Known Whereabouts of the victim, and the Morgue (which is creepily/conveniently located inside the mansion).
  3. DISCUSSION:  The players are given time to mingle and share (or not) information (or misinformation) about their investigations, possibly over lunch.
  4. PUZZLE: The murderer gives the players a puzzle of sorts that will reveal more clues about the murder.
  5. PITCH:  Each player must pitch their guess of how the murder took place, as if speaking to the murderer.  The pitch ends with their guess for the murderer’s identity.
  6. ELIMINATION:  Players get dressed and meet for dinner.  The players whose pitches were farthest off from the actual events of the murder are marked as “Scared,” and those players are in danger of elimination (the rest are “Spared”).  The butler describes the full details of the murder event (while viewers get to watch a filmed version).
  7. MURDER:  One of the two “Scared” players is murdered, and the cycle repeats.

And hopefully they’ll throw in some curveballs here and there to shake things up.

It’s hard to say how the puzzles will stack up, but I thought this week’s was pretty good.  The red herring of the key was great and really rewarded players who took time to stop, observe, and think.  It also split the group up really effectively as everyone ran all over the house trying locks.  I’d be interested to see how much time it took for them to solve it.  The face of the guy standing at the window while the gears turned was priceless.  (And one of my favorite parts of the episode was watching him re-tell the story of solving the puzzle.  You could tell he probably had goosebumps.  Even re-watching it now, my heart starts beating a little faster!)  I liked that the puzzle wasn’t too straightforward and took a bit of creative thinking.

And really, each of the investigation scenes involve some amount of puzzling as well.  Beyond the general search for evidence, the Last Known Whereabouts location had players reveal a hidden message left by the killer.  I’m really looking forward to how they use the investigation portion of the show to do cool things.

A dramatic crime scene
A dramatic crime scene

It seems like the murder events (and maybe other events) will be a big part of the show, and they will take place while the players are occupied doing something else (like unpacking or sleeping).  So far, I’m loving the events!  The big noise from the fish tank that brought everyone running, and the alarm going off in the middle of the night, so dramatic!  Maybe the murder will always take place when they’re in their rooms alone?  (Seems like one might develop an anxiety about being alone or going to sleep!)  And oh man, the guy on fire at the end of the premiere?  Amazing!  I would be going totally nuts.

At this point, player strategy seems to mostly involve gathering information (through observation and talking to other people) and preventing the other players from doing so, usually through lying.  Some players have already formed a few shaky coalitions, though it looks like everyone is very quick to double-cross their supposed teammates to either gain the trust of others or confuse the group at large with conflicting information.  It’s an interesting element that reminds me a lot of The Mole.  Since all of the evidence isn’t witnessed by every player, there has to be some give and take with the information.

I’m definitely interested in seeing how the rest of the puzzles play out with regard to information sharing.  The player who solved this week’s puzzle said “I should have just shut up and walked to that trunk.”  What would have happened if he had?  If he managed to hide the evidence and not get caught, he would have a huge advantage this week.  But if players knew he was hiding that information from the rest of the group (either by his own error or the gamemakers intervening), he would probably have a tougher time in the next round.  If you start getting into fights with other players, or cause drama (hello reality TV), people won’t want to help you out and you’ll be dead pretty quickly.  Even when you’re just “playing the game” and making the same choices everyone else would in your situation, people tend to feel betrayed and distrustful.  People who seem smart but mostly harmless tend to gain trust more easily than those who are obviously conniving or who get caught in a lie.  The strange thing was that nobody really seemed concerned about whether they were interacting with the murderer.  I wonder whether the murder plant is encouraged to sabotage or mislead the group in any way?

Although there were a few cheesy parts that made me laugh out loud, there wasn’t a lot that I particularly disliked about the premiere.  Everything felt pretty solid, it was very entertaining, the puzzle wasn’t watered down, and none of the players did anything frustratingly stupid (except Dontae for convincing himself that a person could drown via an exploding fish tank, but he got what he deserved).  The only thing I didn’t feel great about was the murder method (kind of the most important part?).  I’m not convinced a slingshot to the back of the neck could kill a person.  Also, Nick asked:  how could the killer so confidently assume that the victim would fall toward the fish tank and break it?  Was it just a “would be nice” sort of thing that happened to work out? In general, I feel like the murder path this time wasn’t super logical and airtight, which seems unfair in a game where logically deducing the murder path is the only way to win.  But I guess I have to trust the CSI guys!

Ulysses pitches his version of the crime
Ulysses pitches his version of the crime

Right now, my top pick for the identity of the murderer is Cris, the ex-beauty queen.  My reasoning:

  1. When she said she was scared of messing up her pitch and being the next victim, it sounded really unbelievable.  To be fair, a lot of other players are guilty of bad acting as well.  I’m guessing they’re told to act to some extent for dramatic effect.
  2. She hasn’t gotten a lot of screen time, and is currently one of the least memorable “characters” among the players.  This was a pattern among Moles.
  3. She is an ex-beauty queen.  This background seems to be the odd one out in a group of players who seemed to be chosen partially because of their specific professions in relation to a murder investigation.  Stereotypically, she would be about on par with the ex-cheerleader, a plant who was murdered because she was clumsy and, as a nature of her cheerleading background, labeled as useless.  I anticipate a connection here of some kind.  (You thought all beautiful blondes were airheads, just like I set you up to think?  Turns out we can be murderers!!)

It looks like next week might play into some kind of fear/phobia theme?  Lots of shots of the players being scared and startled by scary animals and such.  I’m really looking forward to the next episode since they won’t need to take as much time getting started and introducing the game and the players.  Though I was a bit disappointed that they seemed to show a clip of the next murder in the preview.  (Technically they did that in the preview for the premiere, too, but everything was a surprise that time.)  My biggest hope is that there will eventually be an episode about weird things in the house, secret passages and stuff.

Did anybody else watch the premiere?  What did you think?? I’m so glad there is something new and fun to watch this summer =)

One comment on Whodunnit? – Episode 1 Review

  • Rich

    Just watched it last night, and was pleasantly surprised for the most part, and it got me hooked enough to keep watching. I like your theories about the potential murderer! Much better than anything I came up with.

    One complaint I have is there is something that feels underproduced about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the odd combination of actors and non-actors, or maybe the suspension of disbelief required to examine a “corpse” that is really a living person with a bunch of makeup on. Compare it to Survivor, for instance, which just seems a lot more polished and believable. Maybe it is ABC, since their The Glass House also had a similar unpolished feel when compared to the show it most resembled, Big Brother.

    I actually feel like I am going to enjoy this a lot more than I liked The Mole, because in this case I feel like they are at least presenting things in a way that you at least have all the evidence to piece together and solve on your own. Plus you get the payoff at the end of each episode to see how well you did. In The Mole I felt like it was a total crapshoot — it was near impossible to tell the difference between The Mole and a strategic saboteur, and there was no payoff each episode to keep me hooked. I actually planned to watch the last season of The Mole by waiting for the season to end, find out who the Mole was, and then watch the season with that in mind – I think that may have made a better show, but I never got around to testing that theory. But I digress…

    Anyway, Whodunnit seems like fun, and I look forward to reading your reviews, too!

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