First of all, let me just applaud the top-notch product placement. I want a Pixel 7 after this. And I am saying that when I am about to buy a new Samsung in a few weeks or so. I’m talking about Peacock’s Based on a True Story, which can very well be passed off as an eight-hour-long Google Pixel commercial. I am obviously kidding, but I also can’t help but appreciate how seamlessly they have blended the latest Pixel device into the narrative and made a show out of it.
We live in a time when we have an abundance of choices in terms of what we want to watch. We have the privilege to drop something and move on to the next piece of content if the former fails to hold on to us from the get-go. That is why if a show or movie manages to hook the audience, it becomes an automatic winner in my book, irrespective of the overall quality. I watched the first episode of Based on a True Story pretty late at night. I was unsure whether I should start the show then or just sleep and start it the next morning. In no time, I realized that I had watched half of the episodes, and I still didn’t feel like stopping. And I am not even a binge-watching person.
Almost everything goes right in Based on a True Story. Kaley Cuoco, its lead actress, is naturally gifted when it comes to comedy, and she is on top form here as Ava, the murder-obsessed pregnant wife. Chris Messina, a chameleon-like actor who can fit into everything, does a great interpretation of the down-on-his-luck, bumbling middle-aged husband, Nathan. However, the top draw here is English actor Tom Bateman, who has the meatiest part as a plumber and serial killer who is hired by the couple for both professions. Trust me; I am not spoiling anything for you because this show is hardly about who “The Killer” is. Granted, that is the central mystery, but the show intentionally puts Bateman’s character in the forefront as the “answer” to that mystery from the very beginning. That provides enough opportunity to satirize America’s obsession with true crime and build a show around the culture. It intends to be a spoof, but there is also self-awareness, which is why the show handles its ludicrous plot with utter seriousness. That effectively tricks the audience into buying it as well—a couple doing a podcast with a notorious serial killer is not something you would believe in general, right?
In many ways, the show reminded me of Netflix’s fantastic mockumentary American Vandal, which got chopped after two brilliant seasons. Of course, that show had a much more direct approach in poking its jibe at the true-crime obsessive Americans, given the mysteries it dealt with were as trivial as “who drew the genitalia on a teacher’s car” and “who poisoned the food with laxative to make everyone in the school pooping the hell out of it.” Based on a True Story has a murderer casually navigating around a typical upper-class American neighborhood, which itself is ironically funny if you think about it. Oddly enough, they hired an English actor to play the killer. Bateman has a very stoic face, which he can change from creepy to charming within a second. The actor uses that as an advantage and goes full-crazy with the performance. I have seen him before in Netflix’s Behind Her Eyes and Death on the Mile, but had it not been for this show, his brilliant comedic chops would have remained undiscovered.
Despite Bateman’s Matt being the crowd-puller, if I have to pick one performance from Based on a True Story, then it would be Messina. In between Cuaco’s over-the-top crazy and Bateman’s sass, Messina underplayed his typical husband part and still managed to add a certain edge to it. His scenes where he is almost about to have a rage-fueled breakdown but somehow manages to keep it under control are absolutely hilarious. The one other top performer outside of the three main leads has to be Priscilla Quintana, whose only notable credit in the past was playing the lead in the CW sci-fi show Pandora. Quintana plays Ruby, a socialite friend of Cuaco’s character, Ava, who initially comes off as a standard caricaturish representation but proves to be much more significant than that by the end. Based on a True Story also shows how to properly use all the popular genre tropes and get the best result out of them. There are a lot of imaginary situations, which are either gruesome murders or erotic fantasies. But the interesting thing is, despite knowing that what you are seeing is only happening in the character’s head, at times, it gets to you.
There is a very interesting social commentary angle in Based on a True Story, where the main characters are placed at the bottom of an upper-class society thanks to their wobbly financial situation. As a citizen of a developing country belonging to the middle-class section, I sort of struggled to feel the monetary issues of Ava and Nathan given the house they live in, the Pixel phones they use, and the beach house Nathan buys in the finale, even in the middle of this dire cash crunch. But the definition of “poor” varies from society to society, after all.
It is not that the show is beyond fault. The central idea is not exactly original, as the show clearly feels like it is cut from the same cloth as Only Murders in the Building. The similarities between the two shows are unmissable. However, it still stands on its own and mostly delivers on the premise. It does lose steam towards the ending but then leaves with a kind of cliffhanger that will compel the audience to get back to it whenever the second season arrives.