Roush Review: Murder and Merriment in an Un-‘True Story’

Kaley Cuoco and Chris Messina in 'Based on a True Story'

Based on a True Story

Matt's Rating: rating: 4.0 stars

Murder is no joke — except when it is — in Peacock’s entirely fictional Based on a True Story, a hilariously fast-paced, made-for-bingeing send-up of America’s bloodthirsty appetite for true-crime stories.

“Do we have to wake up to murder every morning?” moans long-ago tennis champ Nathan (Chris Messina) to his podcast-obsessed pregnant wife Ava (Kaley Cuoco), a realtor who, like Nathan, has somehow taken the off-ramp from Los Angeles’ fast lane. Envious of the wealthy friends in their vapid social circle, who all live for the latest Dateline dirt, the couple senses the possibility for fame and fortune when they think they’ve discovered the identity of the Westside Ripper, a serial killer who has been terrorizing their neighborhood.

Roping a handsome plumber named Matt (the charismatic Tom Bateman) into their get-rich-by-milking-murder scheme, Ava and Nathan are soon over their heads in a farcical moral quandary. Have they sold their souls in their need to protect their sordid brand? And what happens if the insatiable appetite for “fresh new content” means the body count will by necessity rise?

In eight brisk chapters, most clocking in at a half hour, True Story (created by The Boys Craig Rosenberg) delights in bamboozling the viewer with fantasy sequences that feel real — some sexy, some scary — and devising cliffhangers that defy you not to watch the next episode immediately. The chemistry between comedy master Cuoco and the likably disheveled Messina is delicious, with Bateman a first-rate foil as they simultaneously exploit and rail against a craven world that cashes in on other people’s tragedies.

With shocking twists up to the very last scene, this broad satire recalls Netflix’s Dead to Me in its frothy mix of suspense and silliness. Here’s one thing that’s true about this story: A grisly good time is had by all. And forget the cancel culture that is also wickedly spoofed here. The moment you finish speeding through these episodes, you’ll be pining for a second season pronto.

Based on a True Story, Series Premiere (eight episodes), Thursday, June 8, Peacock