PBS // 2011 // 720 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 3rd, 2011
No secret is safe from the history detectives.
Man, I need to watch more PBS. Talk about a secret that apparently everyone else was in on, I never heard of this show before it showed up on my doorstep. And it's in its ninth season!
My ignorance aside, it's easy to see why History Detectives has been plugging along steadily. The hook is interesting and there's so much history packed into each episode, you will no doubt feel your brain churn with delight as you watch.
Here's the set-up: Five experts investigate three separate "mysteries," uncovering the historical significance and sometimes monetary value of items owned by Americans across the country. This crack team includes Wesley Cowan (appraiser), Gwendolyn Wright (historian), Elyse Luray (art historian), Dr. Eduardo Pagan (history professor), and Tukufu Zuberi (sociology professor). When alerted to the location of a new, interesting relic (sadly, no blinking red phone rings), they fan out, talk to the owners of the targeted merchandise, and get their research on.
The stuff that gets covered is wide and varied, ensuring that if there's a segment you might not be interested in, there's likely something coming up that will likely stick. For example, we get the History Detectives sniffing out the story behind a photo of two confederate soldiers, a slave and his owner. Or a bullet will reveal some interesting facts about the Bolshevik Revolution. And then my favorite: an original Ronald McDonald costume from the '60s, which looks like it was lifted directly from my nightmares.
Twelve hours of investigation spread over three discs; recommended for fans of shows like Cash in the Attic or anything that features oddities with unique stories and cushy job academics staring hungrily at them with dinner-plate-sized eyes.
Content-wise, this release is rich, but PBS mailed it in with the DVD treatment. Episodes are burdened by the fearsome "fake widescreen" treatment, which is nothing more than matted full screen; sub-par and ridiculous, considering the omnipresence of HDTVs. Sound is a standard-issue 2.0 stereo. No extras.
History buffs will be in Heaven; tech buffs will be in Hell.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (fake widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 720 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site