Ever been to one of those murder-mystery dinner theaters? That’s roughly the experience of watching “Whodunnit?” an especially brain-numbing ABC summer reality show, which assembles 13 contestants to participate in what amounts to a game of Clue, gradually eliminating them, but not before all are asked to provide particularly goofy reaction shots. British actor Gildart Jackson plays the butler, Giles, guiding them through the paces, but even his “Mwa-ha-ha” intros are hardly worth the time. Someone will eventually walk away with $250,000, but thus far the show hasn’t solved a true riddle, better titled “Whywatchit?”
Although the players come from various backgrounds, including some (an ex-cop, a bounty hunter, an attorney with the Dept. of Homeland Security) with law-enforcement experience and credentials, there’s little here any different from the standard TV procedural. The one wrinkle, such as it is, is that those being eliminated take part in staging their own deaths, while the surviving players run around trying to look agitated and tense.
A bit of play-acting goes into all of these shows, obviously, but “Whodunnit?” — a collaboration of reality producer 51 Minds and “CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker, who really needs to find a better hobby — feels especially stilted, from the squabbling among the contestants to their expressions of fear about winding up the next victim.
Like “The Mole,” each week the players will present their theories regarding how the latest “murder” happened, whittling down those farthest from the truth for potential ouster.
Lord knows TV has a longstanding love affair with crime and mystery, and there’s a natural impulse to try to get viewers at home to play along. ABC even bills the series as “interactive,” but nothing in the execution provides an incentive or much help in piecing together the facts, so all that’s left is to chortle derisively at the participants and those otherwise responsible for doin’ it.
“Whodunnit?” might work marginally in that respect, from Jackson channeling Vincent Price to the earnestness of the players as they play junior sleuths. But frankly, if you’re going to waste time on something this silly, why not put it to more community-minded use and support your local dinner theater?