'Whodunnit?' review: Murdered execution of a killer idea - but the book is fun

whodunnit-review-billiard-room-abc.jpg"Whodunnit" premieres Sunday night (June 23) on ABC, featuring 13 guests, and would-be victims, taking part in a murder mystery game. But does it work for the viewers?

The answer is -- not exactly.

The premise of the show is that these 13 contestants are invited to a mansion by an unknown host and they must solve murders as they are offed, one by one. The better you are at solving the most recent murder, the safer you are from being the next one killed.

The problem with "Whodunnit" is that it can't quite decide what it wants to be.

If the show is trying to be a tension-filled murder mystery with the audience invested in solving the crimes, it doesn't go far enough -- at least, not in the premiere.

The death in the first episode, while a good effort at a crime scene, is just not believable. The makeup on the victim representing wounds is obviously makeup and the "corpse" -- well, in one shot of the dead body, her eyes flutter.

So, even though the audience knows these people aren't really dying, it still could have gone a lot farther in helping our suspension of disbelief.

However, if the show is trying to be a fun-filled reality show with lots of laughs and fun puzzles to solve, it fails on that level as well because the contestants are taking the show too seriously.

Surely the show encouraged the contestants to speak as though their lives are really on the line, but that just doesn't play. This isn't real. Nobody's really dying, so please stop referring to this as "fighting for your life" or pretending to cry when you learn your fate after the first murder.

The structure of the show is such that it could be a really fun reality show this summer -- after each murder, the contestants must decide if they want to investigate the crime scene, the body itself (in the morgue in the mansion's basement) or the victim's last known whereabouts.

Each scene will have a clue of some sort. Then when they all reconvene, they can decide just what they choose to share with each other. You'd have to work with somebody to piece together all the clues, but who do you trust?

Then after the requisite clue-sharing time, there is a riddle to solve that will piece together more of the crime. Finally, each contestant makes his or her guess (in private) as to exactly how the crime went down. The ones who are closest are marked "spared" and the ones who are not on the money are marked "scared" and are possibilities for the next murder.

It's a great premise. But the show missed the mark by having the contestants take it so seriously. If they were having more fun with it, rather than acting scared for their lives, it would be more fun for us.

If the contestants are going to be acting scared for their lives, the show's production value and tension needs to be ratcheted up. Which probably would never work because we would always know that nobody's really dying.

So, instead we have a weird dichotomy of a fun and campy reality show paired with contestants who are acting like it's "real" and it just doesn't gibe. It's also fairly distracting that most of the contestants seem like idiots -- wouldn't it be a lot more fun if the show was populated with some actual brainiacs? Maybe they'll get better as the show goes along.

We'll stick with it because we're curious to see how it plays out -- the cliffhanger death for next week is certainly more interesting than the first death -- but at first glance, it feels like another one of those fun summer ideas where the execution doesn't live up to the concept.

whodunnit-murder-in-mystery-manor.jpgHowever -- there was a companion book released along with the show, titled "Whodunnit? Murder in Mystery Manor," that was a lot of fun. Mostly because in the book, people were actually dying. That immediately makes the stakes 100 percent more interesting.

It's no Agatha Christie -- the book even says that mysteries nowadays don't hold a candle to Christie's fare -- but it's kind of like "And Then There Were None" meets "CSI" and it's an enjoyable afternoon's worth of reading.

"Whodunnit" premieres Sunday, June 23 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. Will you be tuning in?

Photo/Video credit: ABC
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