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The Tetris Murders is a three-part docuseries revisiting the case of Vladimir Pokhilko, who was found dead at his home along with his wife Elena Fedotova and their 12-year-old son Peter Pokhilko in September 1998. Sandra Brown is a CSI investigator with the Palo Police Department alto Also interviewed were other detectives who worked on the investigations for PAPD, as well as friends of Vladimir Pokhilko and Elena Fedotova.

opening shot: Scenes from a quiet suburban area. “PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA. SEPTEMBER 22, 1998.”

The essentials: Elena Fedotova and Peter Pokhilko were found with head injuries and stab wounds to the chest, while Vladimir Pokhilko was found with a knife in his hand, his throat cut so deeply that a detective said he could see the man’s larynx. It was considered a murder-suicide, but Brown and her colleagues thought there were many inconsistencies at the scene.

Pokhilko was best known for being a co-creator of the mega-hit game Tetris, invented by Alexey Pajitnov when the two men were still living in the Soviet Union in the mid-’80s. Dan Ackerman, author of The Tetris Effectdescribes how Pokhilko was a psychologist studying how computers could be used to study how people’s minds work, and he found a great tool in Pajitnov’s game.

When the game was passed around and versions made for Mac and PC, and eventually licensed to Nintendo and attached to the Game Boy, neither Pokhilko nor Pajitnov received much compensation as the Soviet Union owns all the intellectual property created by its citizens. Pokhilko and his family moved to Silicon Valley in the ’90s and started a software company called AnimaTek. However, at the time of the murders, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy.

What shows will it remind you of? The Tetris Murders is pretty much in line with most other true crime documentaries shown on either ID or Discovery+ such as: Unseamly: The Investigation of Peter Nygard.

Our opinion: The Tetris Murders is one of those shows that probably would have made a good 80-90 minute documentary but feels like it’s been stretched too thin at three episodes and 126 minutes. There is a big reason for this: the Pokhilko case seems to have been settled. Palo Alto Police ruled that it was a case of murder and suicide, citing Pokhilko’s money problems as a motive. So the entire documentary consists of Sandra Brown and her colleagues on the investigative team explaining why they thought the evidence was inconsistent with such a verdict and theories as to who might actually have done it.

All well and good, although anyone looking for a resolution or conclusion to this story after putting in more than two hours of their time may be out of luck. But what the extended term dictates in a case like this, whose history is open-ended and details are sketchy, is that there will be filler. In the first episode we get short essays on the late Cold War in Reagan’s America and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then we get a lot of information about what Tetris is and why it is so addictive.

The only relevance this has to the story is to explain why Pokhilko wasn’t swimming in the money after Tetris took the planet by storm. Is there a chance that some of the viewers of this documentary have no idea what Tetris is? Yes, but a very small chance; Explaining the game and its addictiveness seems irrelevant to the murder case.

In fact, if the producers just wanted to do all the documenting about the inconsistencies in the case and how Brown and her colleagues were trying to take other avenues, that’s great. But even just throwing the history and psychology of Tetris into the mix leaves us feeling like we’re not going to get the kind of satisfying watch we were hoping for.

gender and skin: none.

farewell shot: “I think there’s more to the story than that,” says Brown. “And now I know there’s more to the story.”

sleeping star: Sandra Brown is definitely the star here. She gets the most screen time, and we also get a lot from her history in law enforcement.

Most pilot line: The reenactments used didn’t really clarify which actor played Pokhilko and which played Pajitnov. On the other hand, we’re not big fans of true crime series re-enactments to begin with.

Our appeal: STREAM, but only because of that The Tetris Murders actually has cops admitting they may not have been doing things right. Brown and her colleagues talking about the contradictions they see are the most compelling parts of the documentaries. We only wish the rest had stayed on the cutting room floor.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he doesn’t fool himself: He’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon,, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.

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