February 28, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Unsolved”



The progeny of The People vs. OJ Simpson continue to arrive.  This season we’ve had the (so far) enormously disappointing American Crime Story follow-up The Assassination of Gianni Versace, as well as Dick Wolf’s even worse Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.  Now USA Network has thrown its hat in the ring with the planned docudrama anthology UNSOLVED, which for its first installment is serving up THE MURDERS OF TUPAC AND THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.  It’s more promising than its recent cohorts, although still not in a league with People vs. OJ.

Unsolved creator Kyle Long, an experienced writer/producer on Suits, has chosen a tricky structure that intercuts between two timeframes:  1997, when dogged LAPD detective Russell Poole probed the shooting death of NY-based rapper Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls (Wavyy Jonez) and by extension the previous year’s killing of LA-based Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose); and 2006, when a joint LAPD/federal task force under Detective Greg Kading (whose book is the source material for the series, and who is played here by Josh Duhamel) reopened the case.  In addition, there are flashbacks to 1993, when Biggie and Tupac were initially friends.

Long wrote the opening hour, and he’s an efficient storyteller, skilled at packing a ton of exposition into semi-casual dialogue.  Director Anthony Hemingway keeps things intense, with effective use of LA locations and a few show-off visual moments, like an aerial look at a raid on one suspect’s house.  The actors are all fine, especially Simpson, who had a small role in David Fincher’s classic unsolved crime saga Zodiac.  The concentration on a police-eye view of the story, however, is limiting, forcing a much broader tale into a narrow procedural box, at least in the early going, and the set-piece sequence late in the first hour for Biggie’s mother (Aisha Hinds) to orate on her late son feels forced in that context.  There’s also so much information being imparted that we get little sense of Poole or Kading as characters–although the bits that we do get, about Kading’s marriage and Poole’s empty personal life, are so on the nose that maybe Long is better off staying away from them.

The parallel-investigation structure raises the threat of repetitiousness over the long haul, and one hopes Long has a reason for presenting things in this way.  Even as a pure procedural, though, Unsolved sets a compelling pace, and has a strong story to tell.  USA has given the show its post WWE Smackdown slot, which was a strong launching pad for Shooter, but recently failed to keep Damnation from the junkpile.  Whether the wrestling audience will warm to Unsolved will be a test worth watching.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."