Each year, summer television brings a mixed-bag of new reality/competition shows, most of which don’t make it past a first season. ABC’s Whodunnit, created by CSI mastermind Anthony E. Zuiker, will be lucky if it makes it to the end of its 10-episode run. And if it does, it’s not because it deserves to.
Whodunnit is, essentially, a professionally-recorded and edited video of someone’s extravagant murder mystery party. If you’ve ever been to one – or are even somewhat knowledgeable about it all entails – you know what to expect, and Zuiker’s version – which in no way makes use of his experience as a storyteller – does little to show what a murder mystery could actually be with a sizable budget.
Like [insert your favorite canceled ABC reality show that felt "out of place" – The Mole, The Benefactor, etc.], Whodunnit brings together a group of people to compete against each other for a sum of money – this time it’s $250,000 – which will be given to the one who can correctly identify the “killer” in the group. The set dressing is different, and there’s a “murderous” element added, but Whodunnit still falls in the same vein as the aforementioned failures, as the competition-driven element which helps fuels audience excitement for most competitions shows is, instead, combined with a nonsensical narrative - and worse, poor acting.
The show is (barely) hosted by General Hospital alum Gildart Jackson, who plays Giles, the “creepy” butler. Jackson nails the cliche, two-dimensional role he’s been given and, ideally, he’d be the only one who would be allowed to act in the show. Unfortunately, he isn’t. Instead, the collected group of contestants – which includes a former homicide detective, an insurance investigator, a crime reporter and an ex-NFL cheerleader, among others – are asked – or will be asked – to perform when it’s their time to be murdered. Sadly, it’s Sheri, the ex-NFL cheerleader, who is “chosen” to be the first victim after “dropping” a champagne flute on the floor.
Whether or not Sheri’s death was planned before the show began still remains to be seen, but the manner in which she attempted to play off dropping the glass on the floor is laughable and, more importantly, reveals the caliber of acting – or lack thereof – Zuiker is comfortable presenting to audiences upfront. But poor acting is what makes murder mysteries fun, right? Sure – but only when you’re actually participating in it, not just watching it.
What comes next is a confusing and overly complicated investigation of what’s occurred. Each contestant is allowed to select where they’d like to begin looking for clues – the crime scene, the last-known whereabouts or the morgue – and each setting reveals information about what may have happened, which the contestants can then share with the others, if they so choose. Special effects make-up and cheap props are used to help sell the idea that someone’s been murdered, and each contestant is allowed to follow their own path in an attempt to figure out how the person was killed.
The investigation is more like an Easter egg hunt than anything nearing reality, and the clues provided are as unimaginative and simple as the series itself. After some time has passed, each contestant is then asked to go into an empty room and explain what they believe happened. Then, at a communal dinner, the two who got most of the details incorrect are given “scared” cards by the killer, while the rest given “spared” cards, meaning that they’re safe from death. As the end show ends, one of the contestants who received a “scared” ends up dead, thus starting entire process over again. This will happen again and again for the next 10 weeks.
It’s clear throughout the show that the contestants participating in Whodunnit are having more fun than anyone will by simply watching it – and good for them for being able to have such an experience. Unfortunately, Whodunnit the show relies too heavily on editing in an attempt to make its poor mysteries work, and its inexperienced cast of contestants aren’t skilled enough to help drive intrigue throughout.
Jackson’s “Giles” could have been given a larger, more host role, and the show would be better off if he had. But that’s not what producers wanted, apparently. That said, the one positive aspect of Whodunnit is, unlike normal parties that aren’t all that interesting, you won’t need to figure out how to silently slip away for fear of insulting your host; a click of the remote is all you need to make your exit.
Whodunnit airs Sundays @9pm on ABC