“Hey Demons, it’s me… ya boi” – how Buzzfeed Unsolved is bringing out the pseudo-sleuths in all of us.
Ryan Bergera and Shane Madej are quickly becoming the Mulder and Scully of the Internet age. From traversing forests in search of Bigfoot to unpeeling forgotten crimes – everyone suddenly wants to solve the unsolvable.
I spent most of my holiday flopped on a sun-lounger. I lazed away the hours shakily holding my phone with the other arm draped over my face in an attempt to block out that unflattering angle reflected back at me in the screen.
But who cares about your chin when you’re engrossed in discovering true crimes such as the Strange Drowning Of Natalie Wood? Or wondering what could have happened to the famous Amelia Earhart or even the presumed-dead but perhaps kidnapped Sodder Children?
If someone told me that I would be using precious vacation time to watch two Americans snark at each other whilst covering some of the oddest mysteries in history, I would’ve scoffed. Missing out on precious cocktail moments for a web-show? Come on now.
But I did. And I loved it – hell, I’d even do it all over again. This really is proof of the weird and wonderful pull of the Unsolveable.
So don your dusty deerstalker and get out those archived conspiracy theories your Uncle always raves on about at Christmas, because we’re going internet investigating.
Comprising of episodes lasting from under ten minutes with their longest marked at forty-five, Buzzfeed Unsolved is hosted by Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej. If you’re already familiar with those names, it’s likely down to the fact they’re regular faces often seen doing the rounds across the company’s numerous channels –perhaps most notably on series’ such as Debatable.
From its home on Buzzfeed Blue, the Unsolved playlist currently consists of 36 videos, spanning both strange True Crime and attempts at debunking the Supernatural – making a winning combination that has garnered over 24,662,843 views.*
I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure that means there’s a lot more people willing to watch grown men sit in a room with a demonic “Well To Hell” than I originally thought. And that includes myself.
As of last year, Buzzfeed was receiving upwards of 7 million unique content views a month – with half of that being video views. The company has produced quite a few popular online series (including a number of them being created through Youtube Red Originals) such as The Try Guys and Broke Comedy. For Buzzfeed to dip its toe into what seems like a new concept to them - an investigative show that tackles real-life crime and addresses existential questions – I’m genuinely surprised they rolled with it.
But I’m thankful.
That’s not to say that Unsolved didn’t pin down its winning formula on the first try. But the format of the show has evolved over year and a half run: first starting out by simply picking apart strange cases, such as The Mysterious Death of the Somerton Man which came out last February.
Back then, the series was part of a channel titled “Buzzfeed IRL” and the show’s original format focused mainly on cases presented with stock images, photographs and graphics complemented with Ryan’s now-famous voiceover -(additionally, Ryan was accompanied by Brent Bennett in the first couple of seasons who’s since been taken over by Shane.)
But a year on, we’re watching what already feels like an established staple show where the discussion of cases, often helpfully transcribed on screen (“wheeze,” anyone?) are the firm backbone of each episode. The graphics and visual timelines are now just storytelling tools to help viewers piece together the grim facts.What we’re really listening to is Ryan and Shane’s banter.)
It’s universally acknowledged that a show is only ever as good as its host. You could be on board one terrible concept, with awful production value and even drop some pretty unforgivable clangers — but if the person steering the ship has a lick of sense, then you know at least you’re going to reach land.
Unsolved itself is already a great idea, but could have easily fallen into painfully dull territory. When your show has to sift through what is boring legal facts and legislation on paper, there has to be some personality injected in the form of who is handling said information.
Luckily, Unsolved has a lure in the form of Shane and Ryan — who already have some serious fanbases aptly named Shaniacs and Rynosaurs, which I didn’t know was a thing until yesterday.
Ryan Bergara is a hardcore believer in ghosts, conspiracies and aliens. This belief, we discover, was borne from an uneasy night aboard the haunted docked ship The Queen Mary aged seventeen. As a result, he is the Mulder of our dynamic duo. But it is important to remember that Unsolved is practically his baby, as it’s through Ryan’s sheer passion for the paranormal and plain strange that keeps us coming back. He engineers and figures out how to clearly present the cases that viewers end up pouring over, and it is through an meticulous eye for facts and hard-work that his voice-overs have reached such status.
Shane Madej, on the other hand, is our Scully. He’s the sceptic who cannot be moved. Dry-witted and sarcastic, Shane often takes the role of the ‘debunker’ in case proposals, with a talent for calling what many of us are thinking: “Hmmm. That theory seems like a bit of a reach.” Perhaps it’s his unshakeable disbelief in spooks but the sheer guts on this guy is commendable, especially when the team goes on-location to what are often overnight investigations in unsettling spots.
Headed into an isolated, haunted and unused mental hospital? No biggie. Angry spirits? Let’s have a chat. Demons? Ya boi is here.
In a nutshell, Shane is the guy bolting headfirst into the Hell Pit and decides to actively taunt the devil for pure fun. Ryan is the one busy tying a rope around his waist “Old Testament style” for safety precautions — lest some demon try to drag him to limbo.
As speculative “Whodunnit?” documentaries are having a serious moment this year, with Netflix cranking out shows such as “Making a Murderer” and “Casting JonBenet Ramsey” like there’s no tomorrow, there is a danger of falling into what is pretty bleak viewing. Obviously, tales of murder are not supposed to merry delights. But for those who are genuinely interested in the inner workings of crime, details within the case and how errors get made — a show that handles the details objectively and lightly is refreshing.
Unsolved, thanks to Ryan and Shane, manages to pull this off pretty well. According to TV Tropes, the show frequently cites “Mood Whiplash: Happens a lot. You’ll hear the terrifying details of a crime scene, and then it’ll cut to Shane and Ryan making jokey commentary.”
It is important to note that the jokey commentary never pokes fun maliciously, but does it in order to digest what are often some truly horrific truths.
It’s this human aspect that saves what could otherwise have been an awfully clinical concept. This is what makes Unsolved so loved.
We initially watch Unsolved to learn something new, perhaps get a clearer view on cases that have reached historic levels of infamy. But now we tune in to watch what has become clever TV, with a show that manages to balance serious crime and multiple issues with humour, tact and genuine fascination.
If there is anything you should be watching as Halloween approaches, make it Buzzfeed Unsolved.
*at time of publishing