‘Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.’ review: Engaging and watchable
THE SERIES “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.”
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on USA
WHAT IT’S ABOUT This 10-parter by veteran director and producer Anthony Hemingway (“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson) fictionally tracks two investigations into the murders of Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) in 1996 and Christopher “Biggie” Wallace (Wavyy Jonez) in 1997, with the first headed by LAPD Det. Russell Poole (Jimmi Simpson), and the other by Det. Greg Kading (Josh Duhamel). Both investigations in real life yielded some theories about who killed the two hip-hop icons, but otherwise led nowhere. As the title notes, these remain two of the most famous unsolved crimes in U.S. history.
MY SAY Just about the surest compliment you can pay any TV series in these crazy, crowded TV times of ours is that it is “watchable.” Admittedly, the bar is also set at “minimum.” Anything below “watchable” is pretty much cooked. But “Unsolved” is watchable. Definitely watchable.
For some potential viewers, admittedly, “watchable” may be beside the point, however. The deal breaker may be in the title alone, for “Unsolved” ends up like so many books, movies and documentaries on these murders. Ten episodes in, 10 out, and still nothing to show for it by the final act. There are also many moving parts, almost too many. Shifting time frames, countless personalities and a Rubik’s cube of theories, conjectures and hunches fill the canvas. These were either boilerplate revenge murders, or the most elaborate conspiracies since that second shooter hid on the grassy knoll. Who knows? Clearly none of the characters of “Unsolved” do.
But irresolution has its own undeniable power and Hemingway has wisely played the strongest hand he holds. If no one can figure these murders out, that’s a good yarn by itself. The obvious question is “Why?”.
To get at the answer, “Unsolved” follows two parallel storylines — the Kading task force investigation from the late aughts and Poole’s from the late ’90s. Both case and trail had grown cold by the time Kading gets here, which forces him to start fresh. His team finds leads that Poole had either ignored or overlooked. Poole, meanwhile, obsessively pursues an angle they scarcely pause to consider — that the LAPD was involved in the murders. (Kading would ultimately self-publish a book pointing to Sean “Puffy” Combs’ involvement.)
At least in the early episodes, “Unsolved” doesn’t much care whether either made procedural mistakes, or which theory lead to a deader end. Instead, its focus is on the personalities. Simpson’s Poole is jumpy and on edge. A dark cloud follows him. (Poole died in 2015, still convinced of the involvement of an LAPD officer.) His partner, Det. Fred Miller (Jamie McShane) tries to curb his excesses, with predictable results.
Kading, meanwhile, is a smooth operator who can’t quite figure out where any of the trails go, or how to find someone who does. His hand-picked partner, Daryn Dupree (Bokeem Woodbine) tends to follow his lead, which aggravates Det. Lee Tucker (Wendell Pierce), an irascible old-school type who quickly decides Kading is in over his head.
Where all this ends up, you already know. But at least “Unsolved” does a good job of making you care about the failure.
BOTTOM LINE Engaging, interesting, watchable.