Based On A True Story: Season 1 REVIEW – Satirical Excellence

Lead actors Kaley Cuoco and Chris Messina bring their A game.

Based on a True Story

When I first heard about Based On A True Story, I thought the premise sounded a bit too much like Only Murders in the Building. But I was wrong. The two shows are not alike. I would say Based On A True Story feels more like Santa Clarita Diet, with the story’s focus being the marriage at the centre of things on top of all the satirical commentary on the true crime genre.

The series follows married couple Ava (Kaley Cuoco) and Nathan (Chris Messina), who have a baby on the way and are finding themselves in a pit of money problems. Ava’s in real estate and can’t seem to move up to the big leagues, while Nathan is a washed-up pro tennis player who isn’t even the top dog at the country club anymore. They also find out that they’re the only couple in their friend group still faithful to each other – is monogamy even fashionable anymore? – and start to wonder if they’re being idiotic for not cheating.

Ava’s a true crime junkie, and so are all her friends. They spend their time listening to true crime podcasts, discussing their theories with ardent excitement. There’s also a real serial killer on the loose – dubbed the Westside Ripper – so Ava has the news on every morning to listen for updates on the case. The series fleshes out the obsession we as a society have with regard to true crime, how we consume every detail of these cases, our morbid fascination with these killers. The true crime genre has commercialised murder, and we’ve participated in the fever without realising it.

By mere chance, Ava figures out who the Westside Ripper is, but feels like it’s a wasted opportunity to just hand him over to the police. She rationalises to Nathan that they’ve played it safe their entire lives, and where has that got them? They have bills to pay and no one’s going to help them, unless they help themselves. While there are so many podcasts that dive into these true crime cases, there are none that involve the interviewing of an active serial killer. So Ava and Nathan make their offer to the Westside Ripper: make a podcast with us, or we’ll hand you over to the police. It sounds absurd, but that’s the whole fun of the show.

Cuoco and Messina are great together. They’re both so effortlessly hilarious, and are able to bring their A game when it comes to the weightier, more emotional spaces of the series as well. They absolutely feel like a married couple who’s been married for ages, and quite a bit of the series dives into the pitfalls that come with the many years of marriage. They enter into this podcast fiasco because they’re in part bored with the life they have together. However, at the end of the day, despite the fantasies they entertain about other people, they still return to each other and the love they share. It’s something special to have, and even though their friends laugh at them about their fidelity, this type of commitment to a partner is something they desire too.

Based On A True Story is a dark comedy, so it’s willing to go places you wouldn’t even imagine. The series wants to highlight how our obsession with crime and murder comes from our own dark proclivities. Ava and Nathan hang out with an actual serial killer, but he’s not the only messed up, dangerous person they’re in proximity to. We’re called to the sensationalism of true crime because it speaks to the darkness within us, and there’s an entire industry to feed this avid interest.

As Ava and Nathan’s podcast gains traction, there’s a whole conversation that emerges from that. There are some who applaud the creators’ coin-getting efforts, while others criticise the podcast for giving a voice and platform to a serial killer. Only Murders in the Building looks at true crime podcasting as a community, since it’s clear that Mabel, Charles and Oliver became friends because of their shared interest in a true crime podcast, and later on build a community of their own with their podcast. Based On A True Story is a different kettle of fish. It’s more cynical and critical of the genre, and we’re never in danger of sympathizing with the serial killer.

The series is immensely enjoyable and very binge-worthy. I finished the entire show in one seating, so yes, Peacock have a hit on their hands. I can’t wait to see where things go in Season 2.

Review screener provided.

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Well-acted, well-written, and absolutely enjoyable. Based On A True Story is a dark comedy you won't want to miss.