“Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.” wants to bring a “True Detective”-like approach to these sensational cases, and winds up feeling more like the latest miniseries version of “Law & Order.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s an earnest banality to this USA network limited series, which tackles the story largely from a law-enforcement perspective, while operating on three separate planes.
Already the subject of movies and documentaries, “Unsolved” gives away part of the problem in the title, since a lot of what’s been circulated about these 1996 and ‘97 killings remains speculative. The producers tackle that by telling the story through two sets of detectives – those who first investigated the crimes, and those who reopened them as part of a task force a decade later.
A third thread uses flashback to depict Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) and Biggie Smalls (Wavyy Jonez) leading up to those events, as tensions mount between rival hip-hop factions, with various flare-ups prior to the fateful Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas.
“They just don’t want me to find out the answers,” Det. Russell Poole (“Westworld’s” Jimmi Simpson), the detective who initially probes what happened, laments near the outset, finding a web of corruption that might extend into the police department itself.
As for the second investigation, Josh Duhamel plays Det. Greg Kading, who leads a fractious squad populated with good actors in thin and thankless roles, including Bokeem Woodbine and Wendell Pierce.
“There’s no room for corruption in the LAPD, not even one percent,” Kading’s boss, played by Brad Sexton, tells him, although the statement sounds more hopeful than real as events unfold, with fingers pointing at a cop having been contracted to murder Biggie.
Watching these lawmen ply their trade is interesting, but there’s a stiffness to all this, perhaps because of the auspices and what we still don’t know. The project is based in part on Kading’s 2011 book about the investigation (he’s among the credited producers), and contains the requisite disclaimers during the credits, likely designed as much to forestall any legal action as enhance understanding of what transpired.
Then again, the lingering mystery surrounding these musical icons, immortalized in time, is part of what has made this story such a cottage industry. While the murders remain unsolved, that hasn’t prevented multiple parties – including “Unsolved” – from continuing to cash in on their memories.
“Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.” premieres Feb. 27 at 10 p.m. on USA network.