Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. Is Time Well Spent

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There have been a lot of shows featuring the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. Most of them have been documentaries, and none of them have had the time devoted to them that Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. allows.

While I am a fan of true crime, I'm not a fan of rap music and found the history between the two men so complex it wasn't something I ever took the time to understand.

After watching the first seven hours of this impressive USA limited series, that's going to change.

Biggie and Tupac - Unsolved

If I knew little of the lives of Tupac and Biggie going into the series, I knew even less of what to expect of the production based on a book by Greg Kading, who is also one of the lead characters played by Josh Duhamel.

Emmy winner Anthony Hemingway directs and executive produces and he creates some level of the tension for this series that he did for The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. It's an amazing feat knowing the outcome going into it.

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After 20 years, there has been no justice for either Tupac or Biggie, no secret given the title of series. But there is something to the Hemingway sets scenes into motion that captures your attention. Whether you know the outcome or not, the anxiety level still increases. 

Set in three different timelines, Unsolved begins with Kading (Duhamel) being asked to helm a taskforce in 2006 to look into the 10-year-old murder of The Notorious B.I.G.

Voletta Wallace's, multi-million dollar lawsuit on behalf of her son Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie) against the LAPD for their inability to find justice for her son, is the impetus for the department's decision to finally lay the matter to rest.

Murder Board - Unsolved

Kading is a well-trusted officer outside of the homicide division given almost anything he wants under the jurisdiction of a former investigator in the case, Detective Brian Tyndall (Brent Sexton), a character who spans two of the three timelines.

Duhamel's character takes a long time to kick into gear even though he's noted as the lead character and this is Kading's book on which the story is based.

I can only guess Kading's book featured former Robbery Homicide detective Russell Poole significantly and that he thought highly of the man who obsessed over the Tupac/Smalls connection and case before he did because it was with some surprise Poole's character took center stage.

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The appearance of Jimmi Simpson (Westworld, Black Mirror) as Poole told me right away he was going to be an interesting character, but Poole's attempts not only to connect the Tupac/Biggie murders but to launch an investigation into the LAPD for their hand in either a coverup or as a direct link in either of the cases was spine-tingling.

It was 1997, and Poole was chomping at the bit to become involved with the Wallace case because it was one of such high regard. Many other officers thought him nuts, but he soon discovered the entanglement of many officers with Death Row Records might have been the cause of that.

Jimmi Simpson Publicity Photo - Unsolved

As the series progresses, we're watching events unfold through three timelines: Pre-deaths, during the Poole investigation and during the 2006 task force.

The timelines aren't difficult to follow even though there are occasional years flashed on screen to help. It's an odd choice to use the equivalent of 1970's Instagram filter over the late 1990s timeline to show it was in the past, but I understand the desire to delineate the film in some way. 

At this point in time, we need to determine how footage from the '90s has aged because I disagree that it looks anything like the way it appears on Unsolved even though I like the way it looks if that makes any sense.

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felt like it was a lot longer than a ten-year time span between the two investigations and wouldn't have been at all surprised if Poole showed up to work in a leisure suit. Tupac and Biggie were leading the pack, but they didn't start out that long ago!

Although the murder of Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. is on the table, we're taken back pre-Tupac's death to better understand their beginnings and their friendship. Its hills and valleys down to its destruction are examined in some detail, and from what I understand few fictional liberties were taken.

The casting of Unsolved is impeccable, but not necessarily for the same reasons across the board. Kading and Poole, for example, look nothing like their counterparts, but the performances by Duhamel and Simpson are top notch.

Once They Were Friends - Unsolved

Tupac is portrayed by Marcc Rose, whose only other credit has been as Tupac in Straight Outta Compton. He embodies Tupac in every way.

Rose becomes Tupac for the purposes of the series. It's kind of eerie, and the moments with his mother and earlier when he was just a kid starting out and friends with Biggie, his performance comes close to making your heart burst.

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Biggie is portrayed by newcomer Wavyy Jonez and is equally fit to take on the role of his namesake. I did have some issues understanding his lines throughout because his diction was somewhat jumbled, but I'm not sure if that was a character choice or an actor impediment.

More care seems to have been given to the character of Tupac despite the lawsuit refocusing the investigation being opened by Voletta Wallace (Aisha Hinds).

Biggie and Tupac couldn't have been brought up by mothers more distinctly different than Wallace and Afeni Shakur (Sola Bamis), and both Hinds and Bamis make the most of their limited time on screen, leaving no doubt that although both were brought differently, they were also brought up with values and a clear moral code.

On a Stakeout - Unsolved

The supporting cast, including Bokeem Woodbine, Dominic L. Santana, Amirah Vann, Jamie McShane, Michael Harney, and Scott Michael Campbell are all very well suited for their roles and walk the thin line of where their characters fall in a tale where it's nearly impossible to who is on the side of justice.

Unsolved is a fascinating look at the inner workings of a police department and why some cases go cold. It's also a very compelling dive into the friendship Tupac and Biggie shared and how and why it fell apart.

The complexities of their relationship is still somewhat murky, and it that we'll never have the full story of that, let alone their murders because those still alive are too famous and protected to talk is a bitter pill to swallow after spending so much time with them and the investigators who tried so hard to bring them justice.

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After watching, I hope at the very least the families have some relief knowing how much some people cared (and maybe even died trying) do to the right thing for The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.

This is an excellent series for those interested in hip hop, fans of true crime, fans of investigative work and those who are only interested in good television. Don't pass this one up because there is too much to watch out there. You probably did it before with The People vs. OJ Simpson. Don't fall into that trap again.

Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. premieres Tuesday, February 26 at 10/9c on USA Network. 

Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA Member), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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