TV Review: ABC Takes Reality TV Down Dark Road with ‘Whodunnit?’

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CHICAGO – If you’re old enough, you may remember when murder mystery parties became a trend. Game stores would sell boxes designed to get people to gather friends and essentially host their own version of the movie “Clue.” One guest was the murderer, the other party goers had to solve the crime. Well, it took longer than expected but reality TV has officially run out of ideas and have decided to turn those murder mystery parties into a weekly series. ABC’s “Whodunnit?,” premiering tonight, Sunday, June 23, 2013, isn’t the worst reality show of the year but it may be the most surprisingly dull. Those murder mystery parties were probably fun if you were invited. But what if you were asked to watch through the window? Television Rating: 1.5/5.0
Television Rating: 1.5/5.0

An assortment of house guests arrive at a lavish mansion with little idea of the rules of the game they’ve been asked to play. They know they’ll have to “solve some puzzles” and most of them seem to come from an investigative background, although they almost all try to hide that fact so as to not be seen as a threat (the ex-cop who tries to claim he’s a football coach is hysterically see-through). Attorneys, journalists, an insurance investigator, private detectives — all asked to come to a home, solve a mystery or two, and win $250k.

Photo credit: ABC

As they mingle and meet each other, the guests of “Whodunnit?” begin to try and figure each other out. The on-air crime reporter from OKC rubs most people the wrong way. Alliances are formed, animosities sprout up, and the cast feels not unlike other reality competitions shows like “Survivor” or, more accurately, “The Mole,” for the guests soon learn that someone among them is a murderer. Well, an actor pretending to be a murderer.

Photo credit: ABC

They learn this little tidbit from an overwritten butler named Giles. He tells them that they should go to their rooms and the real game will begin. As they’re unpacking, they hear a crashing sound and come to the foyer to find one of the contestants “dead,” laying in a pool of water caused when the fish tank exploded and frying from the live wire in the H2O. Did the crash kill her? The electrocution? Something else?

Each contestant is told that they can choose one of three locations to investigate — the scene of the crime, the last known whereabouts of the victim, or the morgue, where they can examine the body. Some people team up, deciding to share information since an individual would only have a third of the clues. Others try to use their information to gain friends and make enemies. Most people seem to have little strategy at all. At the end of the episode, each contestant pitches to a camera their theory of how the murder took place. The person furthest from the truth becomes the next victim.

ABC has sort of a bare essentials approach to reality TV. You’ve pretty much got to be able to pitch it five words or less. Famous people diving (“Splash”). Average people falling down (“Wipeout”). Wife swapping. While some of these have turned into modest hits, most are totally creatively stale. And the same can be said about “Whodunnit?” It’s hard to discern which one of the contestants is the true murderer because all seem to be acting. They’re the exagerrated, producer-pushed personalities that TV presents as “real” in 2013, which makes them remarkably dull. It’s not just someone else’s murder mystery party, it’s one where everyone wants to be the next reality TV star.

“Whodunnit?” premieres on Sunday, June 23, 2013 at 8pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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