Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on May 25th, 2011
“I’m Brad Meltzer. I’ve spent my life collecting stories. The best include signs, symbols and coded messages that are hidden in plain sight. Some have become the basis for my novels. But I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s out there, and now History has given me the resources to investigate the rest. This is Decoded.”
What if I told you there was an author out there who was known for writing novels that include historical conspiracies, secret societies and buried treasures, and that this author has found a way to parlay his moderate writing success into a television series for History?
What if I were to tell you that this show promises that on a weekly basis they are going to tackle and solve some of the most intriguing mysteries in America, and that after the 13 episodes of the first season have finally been viewed you won’t feel any closer to these answers than when you began.
What if I told you that this author would put his name on the show but really not participate in the actual investigations but rather worked as a sort of Charlie’s Angels telephone voice that listened to the team give their reports and pretend to be fascinated by their less than conclusive results.
What if I told you that this History series was available on a three-disc DVD set now out from A&E/History.
Decoded is an obvious attempt to cash in on the National Treasure films and the trend they’ve started. Each week author Brad Meltzer introduces us to a new mystery. He likes to use the word “we” a lot when he talks about each episode’s investigation, but the leg work is really provided by a team that he has assembled for the task. They include:
Buddy Levy: Buddy is a close friend of Meltzer’s, at least that’s what he tells us. He’s the everyman guy on the team meant to represent the audience.
Christine McKinley: Christine is an engineer and math expert. She’s there to provide the scientific approach to the investigation.
Scott Rolle: Scott is a former prosecutor and lawyer. His job is to provide the BS meter. He’s apparently used to being lied to and is there to dig out the facts when talking to witnesses.
Each episode begins with a premise and the team goes to related locations to talk to potential informants. They also dig through archives and even try to break into the property of secret societies. They love the whole secret society deal and overplay it at every turn. Meanwhile Meltzer breaks in from time to time and delivers an obviously scripted reaction and summation of what’s been uncovered so far. Unfortunately, they don’t solve any of the mysteries, and this show plays out more like those ghost-chaser shows where someone says “Did you see that?” and you look at the television shaking your head thinking, “See what?”
Episodes explore such things as hidden messages on the Statue of Liberty, missing Confederate treasure, the possibility that John Wilkes Booth escaped and was not the man shot by the army, the DB Cooper hijacking, 2012 disaster predictions and an early Revolutionary War spy ring. There is certainly some interesting history here, but I was ultimately disappointed by how empty these investigations actually were. Catch it on television, if you must, but I’d skip this DVD set completely.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Understand that this is documentary television. The footage looks pretty natural, but it’s not intended to blow the doors off your system.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track serves the dialog, nothing more.
Meltzer should hire me for his team next year. I’ve already solved the mystery of why this set is going to have rather low sales. I didn’t even need a team of proxy investigators to do my leg work for me. It just took about 10 hours of intensive study in my home theater. I wanted to love this show, I really did. I’m a history and government teacher who was also a private investigator. These are two of my favorite things. It seems almost impossible that this show could let me down. After my investigation was complete, you might be able to guess what I found here. “Smell that?”