1 of 5 | Kaley Cuoco and Chris Messina star in "Based on a True Story." Photo courtesy of Peacock
LOS ANGELES, June 6 (UPI) -- Based on a True Story, premiering Thursday on Peacock, is the second streaming comedy about a true crime podcast. It's not only late to the party after Hulu's Only Murders in the Building, but it can't boast Steve Martin's writing, either.
Married couple Ava (Kaley Cuoco) and Nathan Bartlett (Chris Messina) are struggling financially as they await the birth of their first child. Ava is obsessed with true crime podcasts.
When the Bartletts discover the identity of the West Side Ripper, they propose to record a podcast together rather than turning in the killer.
Collaborating with the killer is a twist, but not enough to elevate Based on a True Story. Ava and Nathan insist that the Ripper stop killing as they record what feels more of a way to endear the protagonists to viewers, but softens any bite the premise might have.
The Ripper immediately starts dictating the production, from the recording location to the final edit and even the title.
Characters discuss their brand, selling podcasts and other buzzwords that sound like a cursory Google search into the podcast world, not any informed in-depth research.
The eight-episode series moves quickly through the cycle of a crime, production of a podcast and the reception to the podcast. Twists in the Ripper case start coming in Episode 4.
As the police get closer, the Bartletts have to be the Ripper's alibi so he's not arrested before they finish the podcast. This ropes them into the crime as accomplices, if not murderers.
The Ripper gets the Bartletts in deeper because they can't really control a killer, and makes them question whether they've gone too far.
The Ripper is confronted by an industry profiting off him, but there's no commentary on that from a killer's perspective, except that he is pissed off he's not seeing the profits because he can't come forward.
It's a comedy, so it's not really delving into the morality of making an industry out of death. It's satirizing the public obsession with true crime, but that should still entail a scathing commentary.
The mystery and thriller holds more interest even if the comedy and satire doesn't. With episodes under 30 minutes, it's not too much of a chore to spend four hours finding out what happens.
Will the Ripper kill again? And if so, will he get away with it? The actor, whom Peacock has asked critics not to spoil, captures the threatening menace of a killer.
Cuoco and Messina have fun banter and good energy. With smarter material, their chemistry as a married couple still very much attracted to each other would propel the mystery and comedy.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of filler to reach 30 minutes for each episode. That entails a series of dick jokes and subplots about neighbors having affairs. The Ripper goes on a whole diatribe about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
The show employs a lot of dream sequences that become a trick the viewers recognize every time it happens. After a certain point, it becomes a betrayal, breaking trust with the viewers when what they watched didn't actually happen.
The Bartletts partying with their neighbors becomes a very tiresome tangent. So, too, do Ava's sexual fantasies about her real estate clients.
Perhaps the best aspect of Based on a True Story is Cuoco's decision to film the show while pregnant in real life. Sporting a real baby bump, Cuoco shows it doesn't change Ava and Nathan's sex life.
Cuoco shows the bump in bedroom scenes and in the bathtub, and still wears a bikini at the pool, the same wardrobe she'd wear if she were not pregnant.
The phenomenon of true crime podcasts meant it was inevitable that Only Murders wouldn't be the only fictional show to tackle the premise. Based on a True Story fulfills its part of the cycle as the lesser entry that shows it's not so easy to capitalize on a trend.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.