10 reasons why you should have been watching.
1. Reality tv’s co-option of the language of death is one of its more hilarious aspects. I’m A Celebrity contestants talk about their fallen comrades like they’ve actually passed beyond the veil. Survivor contestants refer to one another as “cancers” with such regularity that it’s frightening. Strictly Come Dancing contestants upon their eliminations talk about themselves like people given the giddy opportunity to write their own eulogy. The evictions on Big Brother have slowly evolved to represent a Biblical passing such that I half expect that when I die I will climb that staircase to that bright white light and then hear “GET MONKSEAL OUT! GET MONKSEAL OUT!” emanating from the other side.
But no other show has seized the language of death with such delight as Whodunnit? did. Each week, the eliminated contestant was brutally “murdered” by the “killer” (a plant in the cast, pretending to be a contestant), and then the next episode was spent investigating their “death”. This set-up (and the contestants commitment to it) resulted in the contestants frequently finding themselves sat around casually mentioning to one another how pleased they were that they weren’t horribly murdered the night before, and outlining their strategies in terms of who they were going to have killed next. Gradually the casual language of death snowballed until, in the semi-final, Melina (the flight attendant) casually told Lindsay (the engineer) that she hoped a present the latter got from the killer would spray acid in her face and kill her when opened. The wanton inappropriateness of it made the show frequently absolutely hilarious. The BEST moment in brain-twisting madness came though as Kris (ex beauty queen) tried to persuade the other contestants that Geno (Bar Trivia Host) must be the killer because he didn’t react to the murders like he was upset at all. Unpack the logic of that if you can.
2. The deaths themselves were veritable Heath-Robinson tour de forces. Necessarily so, as the show’s elimination mechanic revolved around a lengthy quiz each week as to how precisely that week’s murder was carried out, meaning they had to be sufficiently complex to allow for a wide range of potential scores. An off-camera quiz obviously, because quizzes are boring, represented televisualy by the contestants pacing up and down the library espousing their theories of the crime out loud to themselves, like some sort of schizophrenic Hercule Poirot. Exploding golf carts, poisoned injections disguised as snake-bites, wanton exsanguination, electrocuted door-knobs flaring up benzene soaked pyjamas… No method was off-limits.
Although, I say complex, quite often I instead mean “fucking stupid”. No death represented this more fully than Don (retired police chief)’s. Don’s death went thusly – Don was “accidentally” served a raw steak by the killer for breakfast. Miffed, Don went to the kitchen of the mansion in order to cook it. As he started up the cooker, Don stepped on a hidden pressure pad placed under a mat in front of the oven, which triggered a hidden door to the concealed cage of…A MOUNTAIN LION. Excited by the smell of raw meat, the mountain lion emerged and advanced slowly on Don…at which point the oven sprayed poison in his face the end.
3. The ridiculous nature of the crimes usually evinced ridiculous potential solutions from the contestants, especially those that hadn’t discovered the full range of clues hidden about the mansion, and so had very little chance of piecing together a coherent theory. Burnings were confused for drownings, poisonings were confused with “death by fright” and gunshot wounds were confused for chandelier crushing. But no half-arsed theory of the crime anybody came up with could match Ronnie (bounty hunter)’s theory for Geno’s death. In that Ronnie just plain gave up, and gave a theory of the crime that amounted to “a trained monkey did it”. Shortly after espousing this theory, Ronnie got exploded out of a hot tub by rapidly expanding liquid nitrogen.
Turns out he was poisoned with ricin.
4. The host of Whodunnit? was, of course, an English butler called Giles (yes they nodded to the “the butler did it!” convention ; no, he didn’t). Played by some bloke who was a Big Bad on Charmed for a series, Giles fully represented the stiff upper lip and English reserve you’d expect from a minor Downton Abbey character…for all of about 5 minutes before the show had him doing a silly dance around the contestants corpses, throwing phony bombs around, and briefly interrupting an investigation to “go and have a piddle” in the bushes. Giles’ undoubted highlight came though, when he announced that this week’s final scenes would take place at an impromptu Hawaii’n luau. The increasingly giddy tone of the proceedings (Hawaiian shirts! Tikis! Cocktails! The stench of impending pretend death!) reached their heights when Giles got trollied on maragaritas and did the limbo. Then the lights went out and part of the ceiling fell on somebody’s head.
5. According to legend, many members of the show’s audience were so dazzled by the shows special effects that they believed that the contestants were actually being murdered and expressed this noisily on twitter. Personally I’m not really sure I buy it – twitter accounts are easily set up by production staff and the supposed stupidity of the American public always makes for good publicity. Regardless, the show’s response was inspired – have the show contestants give goodbye interviews whilst still in character as corpses. Hence Dontae (Private Investigator) giving his exit interview with half his face hanging off and Adrianna (tv crime show host) giving hers whilst dangling half why up a tree (up which she had got exploded). The trashiness reached its apex though as Ulysses (attorney), easily the show’s most attractive male contestant, gave his exit interview looking like a cheap perfume commercial, draped naked on the ground in the middle of the woods, covered in corpse make-up. He died with his clothes on, and from a wound to the leg but OOPS SOMEHOW HIS SHIRT DISAPPEARED ON THE WAY TO THE MORGUE.
The even BETTER part of this came when all the eliminated contestants returned for the final episode as zombies, an idea that more reality shows should utilise.
6. The show most devastating elimination came half way through with the double culling of Southern Belles Sasha (journalist) and Dana (cardiac nurse). By far the show’s most colourful contestants, they took a lot of the fun out of the show with them when they went, their wrists slit in the mansion’s basement, then their bodies artfully arranged to look like a classy piano recital. Sasha was the show’s designated “villain”, snorting openly in Lindsay’s face when she somehow survived the first episode despite Sasha deeming her to be too stupid to live (literally not literally but literally literally in context) (ahem) and presaging her own death by giving a speech to the assembled competitors that she would have lived if she’d listened to her own instincts rather than listening to their nonsense.
Dana though, was the show’s true star. The show itself was created partially by the Executive Producer of CSI and of all the contestants Dana seemed most like she’d been beamed right out of the audience to take part in her favourite show. My favourite Dana moments include :
- When told that the contestants would be having a “formal breakfast” the next morning, Dana descended the main staircase dressed like something that dangled from the ceiling in Saturday Night Fever.
- Whilst the rest of the contestants sprinted around the manor looking for a hidden videotape which would help solve Adrienna’s murder (it contained an episode of “Rock Of Love ft Bret Mchaels”), Dana just stared mutely at the mansions tv monitors, completely unconcerned by the concepts of haste, urgency, and not finding oneself at the end of a harpoon gun
- When shut out of an assumed alliance with Ulysses, Dana charged across the manor’s lawn dressed in her pyjamas yelling “ULYSSES! ULYSSES!” like a deranged Scarlet O’Hara emerging from a blazing Tara, determined never to go hungry for himbos again
- The one week Dana actually “won” the episode and delivered the best theory of the case, her speech contained the line “I bet you never knew my daddy worked in the plating industry…and he worked with cyanide all the time”. Chills.
- Dana once uttered the line “OH THERE’S GONNA BE A MURDER ALRIGHT!” when somebody pissed her off.
7. Melina spent most of the show’s run derping around as the least obviously engaged member of her alliance. Melina never had the best theory of the case, never solved a “killer’s riddle”, and never really seemed to have a clue what was going on. Also she over-acted…a lot. Every time Giles walked down the stairs she screamed blue murder. Every time a “death” occurred she cried genuine floods of tears. In short, her passage through the game was so baffling and stagey that she felt like a bolt-on for the role of killer. Going into the penultimate episode, Melina was the pick of about 80% of the people I know for the role. Then…Sherlock Melina happened. Melina somehow managed to nail the details of the final crime out of nowhere, including the following two flights of fancy :
- Ronnie must have drank a hot drink because Ronnie liked hot drinks. Because he’d already had coffee that morning, Ronnie MUST have drunk tea!
- Ronnie was in the library. Ronnie didn’t like to read. So he MUST HAVE BEEN WRITING A NOTE! A NOTE ABOUT THE IDENTITY OF THE KILLER!
These random “deductions” were both so ass-backwards and so accurate that the 80% became 100% and everyone just knew that Melina was the killer, and the show was desperately trying to come up with justification for somehow surviving into the final despite the entirety of the rest of the cast colluding to hide the actual evidence from her. Then Melina actually disappeared into a thick cloud of white smoke in place of a death scene and the 100% became 200%. Then Melina turned up strangled to death 15 minutes into the finale and everyone’s bottom fell out.
8. In fact, the title of the show couldn’t be more irrelevant. The winner, Kam (Homeland Security Agent) didn’t identify the killer (Kris) correctly once on the show’s quizzes, whilst the runner-up, Lindsey, identified her as the guilty party from the off. In fact Kam accused a non-contestant (Giles, sadly not one of the show’s obligatory creepy mute maids) over Kris. His first words to Kris as she confessed her guilt (in rhyme, just because) after Lindsay got shot in the throat by a bow and arrow were “oh, I thought it was Lindsay!”. The show’s more humourless detractors snitted that the show should probably be renamed “Howdunnit?” but…who’d watch that? The fact that the identity of the perpetrator of the crimes was irrelevant only fits in with this gloriously tacky nonsensical circus of a show with imaginary trained monkeys, a killer who couldn’t even keep a straight face during her denouement, and a pissed up British butler doing the limbo. An ending that made sense would have ruined things
9. In reality the entire show came down to who was better at a game of “Spot The Difference”. Frankly I think all reality shows should be decided by parlour games found in the newspaper next to the horoscopes and Marmaduke cartoons. Showdance for the Strictly Come Dancing mirrorball? NO! LET’S HAVE A SUDOKU-OFF!
10. The show’s tie-in books (yes there are tie-in books) give rise to the very real prospect that if there is a sequel, it will be seton a mysterious tropical island. I’m so there.