Based on a True Story – A Great Premise that Can’t Stick the Landing

There are many instances in life where the journey matters more than the destination. A cross-country trip with friends, making pizza from scratch, even taking a morning walk around your neighborhood. Unfortunately, such an idiom does not apply to entertainment. With a plethora of movies, television shows, music, etc., there’s only so much time to dedicate to each. So, when an original show with a great cast and clever premise ends its season in the most boring, conventional way possible, you wonder how the destination could be so awful, and want to keep others from making the misleading journey. This is how I feel about the new Peacock comedy Based on a True Story.

With a child on the way and their careers slowly falling apart, Nathan (Chris Messina, The Mindy Project) and Ava (Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory) Bartlett are in somewhat of a rut. When their toilet breaks, they hire a local plumber, Matt Pierce (Tom Bateman, Da Vinci’s Demons), whom Nathan forms a quick friendship. After Nathan and Matt spend the night at the same bar as a just-murdered bartender, Ava, a true-crime obsessive, makes a connection: Matt is the “Westside Ripper”, a local serial killer responsible for several unsolved murders. But instead of turning him in, Ava has another plan: to create a podcast, interview the “Westside Ripper,” and become famous.

At only eight episodes, it’s nice that the above is all covered in the very first one. It’s not rare for a show to spend the first two or three episodes trying to explain the premise. Not this one, and for that reason, I got immediately hooked. It also helps that this show is, first and foremost, a comedy. Yes, there’s an element of true-crime, and there are the tense moments of a Thriller, but even in these scenes, there’s a levity that keeps the show from feeling too dramatic. And this leads me to the acting.

I absolutely adore Chris Messina. I still remember enjoying him in the subpar Julie & Julia 14 years ago. I don’t know why he isn’t a household name. He should be. Kaley Cuoco, on the other hand, is not one of my favorites, though that just may be my bias against The Big Bang Theory, in which she starred for 12 years. In this series, though, both actors are perfect for their roles. They have great comedic timing, they know exactly who their characters are, and I believe them as a married couple. The standout, though, is Tom Bateman. This is my first experience with him, but damn he’s funny. You would think because he’s the murderer, he plays the straight man, but it’s surprising how many funny scenes he gets to be a part of. The chemistry between the three characters is why the series works as well as it does.

Unfortunately, this is where the positivity stops. Had this show stuck the landing, I would be discussing how good the writing was. I would be discussing the quirky side characters who had no basis in reality, but were funny enough and, in one case, sexy enough that I wouldn’t care. I would be explaining the clever dream sequences used in each episode and the funny antics that ensue, but having seen how the finale ends, I realize now that the writing was terrible, the side characters were terrible, and the dream sequences were complete filler.

For example, A couple episodes take place at a true-crime convention in Vegas, where at the end of an episode, spoiler alert, there’s a murder. You’d think the police would be a major aspect of the next episode, but no. The convention is still going strong, and no one is deterred into leaving. In fact, the “Westside Ripper” somehow hosts his own event at the convention without any authorities popping up at all. Again, this wasn’t an issue in the moment, but only after I saw where the show led to. I could go on, but then I’d be recapping the whole series.

Let’s fast forward to the ending, as that’s my biggest sticking point. No, I’m not going to give away what happens, but I will say this: IF you think you know what’s going to happen, you’re not thinking small enough. As the episodes progressed, I kept producing great ways the finale could go to make for an exciting season two, but I wasn’t thinking mundane enough. And now that I still have all these great ideas in my head, I’m disappointed none of those ideas came to fruition. Perhaps I expected too much, and perhaps if you go into the show and just turn off your brain, you’ll enjoy it more, but the fun of true-crime shows is the mystery, and this show’s mystery is underwhelming.

Will I tune in for a second season of the show if it gets greenlit? No. Chris Messina deserves better, Kaley Cuoco deserves better, Tom Bateman deserves better, and viewers deserve better. If you’re going to write a show that ends its first episode with such a crazy premise, I expect a crazy ending. What I got was mundane, and in a world where there’s so much else to watch, I have no time for mundane.

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