I really should have known better. When I heard that there was a show called Brad Meltzer’s Decoded and they were tackling legitimate historical mysteries I thought this would be worth watching. In case you aren’t aware of the show in it writer Meltzer oversees three investigators as they tackle such mysteries. They include a lawyer, an engineer and a journalist so right away you can see the problem – no historian. But since The History Channel has little to do with history any more this probably isn’t surprising but it is a big tipoff that Decoded isn’t particularly serious. The other tipoff looking back is that Meltzer was responsible for Identity Crisis, one of the worst comics stories in years being both incredibly stupid (the murderer was discovered by teeny tiny footprints left on the victim’s brain presented just as seriously as anything Ed Wood did) and blatantly offensive (rape as entertainment).
The first episode is about the missing cornerstone at the White House. Holy cow! The cornerstone is missing? Why haven’t we heard about this? Well the reason is simple – because it’s not missing. The cornerstone is there it’s just that nobody knows which stone it is. So yawn right but Meltzer and crew have to get a full episode out of this so they start fudging the “missing” to suggest that maybe it really is gone. And Meltzer even tries to claim that the physical cornerstone is somehow a cornerstone of democracy when in fact even the entire White House isn’t. You could move the president into a large condo and that wouldn’t change democracy.
So off the crew goes to figure out the cornerstone mystery. The biggest mystery is why anybody thought this would be an appropriate choice for the first episode. Now when I say the crew goes out into the field that’s because Meltzer is really just a figurehead. He lends his name, does a bit of narration, appears for one segment but is otherwise not really involved with the events. The show is structured as reality TV with each investigator giving talking-head interviews about whether they’re progressing faster than another investigator. Needless to say not much history here.
More in line with what The History Channel has become are the various kooks that are interviewed. One guy claims that the cornerstone was stolen, something for which there is not only no evidence but absolutely no reason to consider. Of course that doesn’t stop Meltzer from picking up on this. But that’s just the start. We get somebody claiming about how evil Masons are planning to take over the world and then even more bizarrely a man suggesting that there’s an alternate version of the Constitution hidden in the cornerstone which would destroy our country if found. Why would this guy even be aired? He completely invented this story and even shows that he has no idea what he’s talking about with the destruction claim – an alternate version of the Constitution would have absolutely no political effect.
Meltzer does get to indulge some Mason conspiracies and even puts a few on camera who try their best to be mysterious and hint that they know deep secrets. Meltzer even claims how Masons are the guardians of ancient secrets but if you’ve ever met a Mason or read anything about them you know they aren’t guarding diddly.
So let’s see, we have a pointless non-mysterious mystery (at the end of the show they point out that the cornerstone is there where it’s always been), some hack TV personalities (they auditioned instead of being chosen for any accomplishments), a sloppy writer who’s almost literally phoning it in and interviews with people who should have been left alone in their basements. Not much to decode here.