Mystery 101: Playing Dead (2019)

I don’t remember much about Mystery 101, which debuted months ago, but I do remember not caring for it. I’ll be caring a lot more about it, however, if future episodes are like this one, a case full of intrigue and surprise. The mystery centers around movie star Bella Brightman (Rekha Sharma) and her special appearance at the community theater production in Garrison, Washington (I think), where she also own a holiday home. She’s starring in a play called Shadow of Death, which is akin to an episode of Miss Marple. Think country estate, unhappy marriages, and an affair with the vicar. Not everyone’s happy with Bella’s appearance though, and it’s apparent that someone wants her off the stage when she narrowly escapes a few “accidents” involving a lighting rig and prop gun. As the police try to keep her safe, they also investigate a series of burglaries at local businesses, one of which sends an officer to the hospital.

Stars Jill Wagner and Kristoffer Polaha headline this series, and while they’re total pros here, their characters are not at all captivating. Amy (Wagner), an English professor and dramaturge for the play, and Travis (Polaha), a police detective, don’t deviate from the norm in the slightest. They are exactly as you’d expect. Amy is headstrong but caring and, once she gets a taste of crime solving, doesn’t pay any attention to boundaries or the law. She thinks of herself as a one-woman investigation team, though she’d be a shite detective IRL because nothing she collects would be admissible in court. Travis, it turns out, doesn’t care much either. He scolds her every now and again, but warrants be damned because girl’s got skills and she’s kinda cute.

The regular characters have the potential to form a good team though. I like the idea of English majors using their knowledge of Emma to take down criminals – because what the hell else are we going to do with this information? Two of the supporting characters, Amy’s TA (Preston Vanderslice) and her student (Louriza Tronco) might make quirky sidekicks and tagalongs, but they don’t get a chance in this film. They both have parts in the production but don’t contribute to the case in any meaningful way.

The highlights instead are the guest stars and this tangled plot. Even if you think you know whodunit, chances are you can’t piece the whole of the mystery together until the final reveal. This is one of those cases where everyone is hiding something, whether or not it has to do with the main crime. There’s a revolving door of shady people and potential killers – Bella’s angry husband, Duncan (Matthew Kevin Anderson); her enamored costar, Elliot (Luke Camilleri); her suave ex-husband, Sebastian (Colin Lawrence); Elliot’s unloved girlfriend, Josie; the grumpy set decorator, Karl (Aaron Douglas); and the could-be-guilty-because-he-seems-so-innocent director, Vincent (Robert Moloney). Throw in a creepy toy monkey, some chopped up car parts, and a trash bag of prescription meds, and you have a mystery that you won’t mind picking apart.

Highlight for spoilers: Josie and Duncan conspired to murder Bella and frame Elliot. Why? Because they are biological siblings but really because Josie looks like a Shirley Henderson character who is trying to be normal but is actually a creepy, murderous fucker. The two were separated in their youth after their parents died in a fire, a fire that took place in one of the Quick’s buildings. They were placed in different foster homes, which led to very different futures. While Josie did well for herself, her brother had a harder time. It wasn’t until they reconnected and she helped him out that things started looking better for Duncan. All that he had worked for was threatened by his wife’s affair with Elliot Quick, however. When he found out that Bella was going to divorce him to be with Elliot, he and Josie decided to bring both of them down lest another Quick ruin their lives. Duncan laced Bella’s drink with poison, and the siblings, who had staged the robberies, used the evidence to frame Elliot.

Released: 2019
Dir: Blair Hayes
Writer: Robin Bernheim, Lee Goldberg
Cast: Jill Wagner, Kristoffer Polaha, Robin Thomas, Sarah Dugdale, Louriza Tronco, Preston Vanderslice, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Luke Camilleri, Aaron Douglas, Michael Kopsa, Colin Lawrence, Robert Moloney, Rekha Sharma
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019