One night, at a sleep away camp in upstate New York, the movie Clue and third rate reality show Joe Millionaire met up behind the craft barn after lights out. “I can’t believe we’re doing this!” breathed Clue, tittering as she excitedly looked over her shoulder, triple checking to make sure that Counselor Meaghan hadn’t followed her. Joe Millionaire grasped her hand. Whereas Clue was exhilarated by the thrill of breaking the rules, Joe had been waiting for her behind the barn with something to say. Something important. “I don’t know how much time we have before they notice we’re missing,” he began, his firm voice belying the quavering emotion filling his heart, “But I love you. I’ve never been surer of anything in my life. You… you look so beautiful in the moonlight.”
Joe’s earnestness caught Clue off-guard. She knew she didn’t love him, but his sincerity, his bravery, his devotion to her, melted her heart. She touched his face gently and pouted a sisterly smile. “Oh Joe.” He kissed her, and immediately congratulated himself for eating all those Tic Tacs before leaving his bunk. His oafish hand wandered from her shoulder downward. Clue did not resist.
Nine months later, at a home for wayward girls, Clue gave birth to Whodunnit, which was immediately given to its loving adoptive parent ABC and put on the air for our summer enjoyment.
I saw a coming attraction for this a while ago and immediately thought of my best friend… we’ll call him “Brian” since that is, in fact, his real name. Brian is not only a huge reality competition fan (he was even on one), but a lover of all things murder mystery (ditto Monsieur, as you will see below). I went to Facebook and we had this exchange...
A funny moment, but I really didn't think about it again until Brian wrote this on my wall
As much as Charm School? High praise indeed from Brian. So at that point, I was like “Fuck. I’m probably going to have to watch this.” (This was confirmed recently, when I got this quasi-threatening e-mail before a wine tasting we go on every year:
“YOU HAVE TO FREAKING WATCH ALL OF WHODUNNIT BEFORE WINE TASTING because Friend 1, Friend 2, and I are obsessed and I would REALLY LOVE to hear your thoughts on it all. It's all available on YouTube without commercials. Just go in knowing it's supposed to be cheesy and campy and just fun and silly.”
So, being the saint of a friend I am, I did just that. The night before. Every episode.
Where do I even begin in describing this show other than comparing it to the clumsy but ultimately miraculous love child of Clue and Joe Millionaire? It is a show that in no way takes itself seriously... While the contestants take it very seriously. (I can only assume the producers instruct them all to stay in character, but more on that in a minute.) The emcee is a captive butler named Giles, frequently flanked by two silent maids. Giles (who, in real life, is married to "Jan" from The Office) doesn't really take things too seriously either, often making puns about the gristly murders that have taken place mere moments before. (Prompting contestants to defeatedly scold his insensitivity.)
Here's how the game is played. A ridiculous, over the top "murder" takes place. Contestants are allowed to search one of three locations—crime scene, last known whereabouts, or the morgue. When their time is up, they gather together and have an opportunity to share (or not share) information. Then "the killer" (who, did I mention IS ONE OF THE CONTESTANTS!!) gives a riddle for them to solve. The answer to the riddle will lead them to a big clue that ties all the other information together and allows them to solve the mystery. Only one person gets access to this clue, though they can share the info if they want. Next, they go into a confessional and give their theory to the camera. The more accurate details you can give, the better you do. Once the theorized are assessed, "the killer" has Giles deliver the verdict—contestants receive a card that tells them whether they are "Spared" or if they should be "Scared." (The latter of which is accompanied by a terrifying sound effect, btw... I am a scaredy cat.) Up to three people can be "Scared", which means that they are candidates to be the next person murdered. Repeat until someone wins.
At the start of the show, there were 13 contestants, but at this point we are down to four. Though most of them very much fit the bill for your average reality show cast (a bounty hunter, a journalist, a former Miss Nevada, a retired homicide detective), I will say this for them—the challenges are actually require quite a bit of deduction and intelligence and I think they are, by and large, doing quite well...
That said, you would think they actually believed their lives are in danger. "You guys! How am I going to sleep tonight?! Dontae WAS MURDERED!!!" No. He was not murdered, and I am not wholly convinced you believe that anymore. Their commitment to the bit/drinking of the suspension-of-disbelief Kool Aid is equal parts hilarious, commendable, and inspiring. They can say, without a trace of a joke, something like "That mountain lion that the killer ordered online and hid in the kitchen couldn't have killed him! There isn't enough blood!" Or "I know how you did this, Killer. I should never underestimate you. After you shot him, you got a helper monkey to drop the chandelier."
I am so not kidding.
It is rare that I can sit back and enjoy something so shamelessly silly and ridiculous, but Whodunnit has a special place in my heart, and I enjoy tuning in. There's still some time. Catch up and then watch the finale with me. YOUR LIFE MAY DEPEND ON IT!!!—... It doesn't. You'll be fine if you don't watch it, but I don't think you will regret giving it a whirl.