Best described as a twisted mash-up of a reality television show, game show, and mystery drama, Fox's Murder in Small Town X was one of those shows you could easily say was about 16 years ahead of its time. Then again, it was so creepily disturbing that I'm not sure there would've ever been that "right time."
So here's the best way for me to explain the premise behind the show, which was created by George Verschoor, Robert Fisher Jr., and Gordon Cassidy; and hosted by Sgt. Gary Fredo, a California Police Investigator:
● Ten contestants from across the country are sent to live in Sunrise, Maine (actually small fishing village Eastport, Maine) to serve as amateur detectives to solve a series of "murders." In every episode, a lead investigator ("lifeguard") is chosen by the previous investigator who was "murdered" (we'll get to that in a second).
● The entire town was populated with character actors who were either suspects or there to offer clues (or red herrings). The investigators started with a list of 15 suspects; but between mission clues and storyline "killings," that list got a lot smaller pretty quickly.
● Red Envelopes: The red envelopes contained questions about the day's investigations, and the team's answer would be emailed "anonymously" to the killer. If the answer was correct, the killer would remove a name from the list of suspects. If wrong…nothing (…yeah, thought they kinda messed up there).
● Black Envelopes: Now this is where it gets really creepy. So the black envelopes contained two smaller black envelopes, each with a map leading to an unknown location. The investigators (minus the Lifeguard) would meet to vote on who the first person should be to play the Killer's game; while the Lifeguard chooses the second person after the first choice has been made. The two investigators choose a map and head out, with their movements recorded only by night-vision cameras. One of the maps leads an investigator to an important clue to the mystery, while the other map would "kill off" that contestant — another victim of the killer.
The backstory behind the game is a long and convoluted one; so much so, that I'll leave it to my friends at Wikipedia to give you a synopsis here. But what really made the show a little disturbing and uneasy to watch was how immersive the experience was for both the contestants and the viewers.
The look of the series reminded me of a cross between a Stephen King miniseries and a really creepy episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. But what really sold it for me were the night vision goggles; in particular, the way we get to see through the killer's eyes (a la Silence of the Lambs) during those final seconds before the contestant is "murdered." Very classic slasher film, and very not something I was expecting from a network show — even from Fox.
I've included some examples here, but you can find full episodes (allegedly) on YouTube…check 'em out!
(Writer's Note: This post is dedicated to the memory of winning contestant Ángel Juarbe Jr., a seven-year veteran of the FDNY who was killed attempting to rescue a fellow fireman the morning of 9/11 and in the shadows of the collapsing towers and adjacent buildings. Juarbe Jr. was laid to rest on December 1st, 2001.)
A BC October: Tales From Terror-Vision! is Bleeding Cool's month-long look back at some lost or forgotten scary moments from the history of television.