Based on a True Story – Season 1 Episode 1 “The Great American Art Form” Recap & Review

The Great American Art Form

Episode 1 of Based on a True Story begins with – you guessed it right – murder. The show itself is a light-hearted take on our obsession with true crime and manifests it with our central couple, Ava and Nathan Bartlett. Ava is pregnant (so is Kaley Cuoco, who plays her) and a realtor. Nathan is a former tennis prodigy and is now the Director of Tennis at a local club. A knee injury ended Nathan’s promising career in junior tennis itself. The couple have been struggling with financial issues. Their married life, one that had charm and excitement a few years ago, has died down.

The dullness and underlying anxiety are compounded when Nathan loses his job and Ava’s “big sale,” which would bring them out of the rut, fails. There is further acrimony as their toilet overflows and they have to get a new one. While purchasing one, Nathan gets the sense that Ava is disappointed in him. At night, before going to bed, they have a fight about the issue and Nathan takes off on his own to “get some air.” The next morning, they call a plumber, Matt, to fix the problem. Getting a new one is not a priority right now.

In conversation, Matt professes his fondness for tennis. He also recognizes Nathan as the up-and-coming star who couldn’t make it. Although the toilet is fixed when Ava shows him a leaking pipe, Matt’s diagnosis means they will have to completely replace the set. That’s more expensive than getting a toilet! Nathan offers him a deal – free tennis lessons, twice a week, for replacing the pipes. Next thing you know, Matt is playing ball on the court! After the lesson, Mason, the young coach who was promoted in place of Nathan as the new coach, talks to him. He mentions a “coach emeritus” position for Nathan that makes him grab onto the steel mesh next to him in anger. He badly hurts his hand while doing so.

Meanwhile, Ava is having her true crime bestie group over for drinks and discussing the “West Side ripper”, who presumably killed the young girl at the start of the episode. Tori, her younger sister, goes out on a date. The group sees her and laments their situation: sitting on their couches, drinking wine, and discussing vicious murders.

But that is just momentary and they get back to the chatter. Matt mentions his failed marriage and Nathan is alerted to his own situation. He flirts with the bartender, who is the same girl who got murdered. So this is the night before the murder. Ava is shocked when her friends reveal they are all having an affair and think it is normal. Matt drops off a drunk Nathan at home. We see Nathan bumping into that bartender once again, only this night, she is murdered. Did Nathan do it? We’ll have to find out.

The girl’s name is Chloe Lake, which Ava finds on her Instagram profile opened on Nathan’s laptop. Right in the next tab is the news report of her brutal murder. Ava interrogates Nathan about what time he got in the previous night. Turns out, this case has got Ava riled up because now she is intrigued by the Westside Ripper, as the news claims this murder could be him. Ava sees something on the news and rushes home with urgency.

She finds Matt working and Nathan with him. She pulls the latter aside and shows him the news. The police have found a pair of blue booties in the alley behind the building – like those that Matt wears when he works. Ava thinks it is him. She saw serious scratches on his arms that morning, which he says he got from his cat. But Nathan says he doesn’t have one, which only further intensifies their suspicions.

Nathan also brings up how Matt told him he moved from Pomona to LA because “someone got attacked in his building.” After some more digging, fingers are pointed toward Matt. Now what do the couple do? They somehow get past saying anything to Matt as he leaves. Nathan calls 911 right after he leaves the house but Ava cuts the call. She wants to make a podcast with Nathan and have Matt on it. His case will be publicized and they might as well get ahead in that race.

What would Matt choose if given the option to either go to jail or be on a podcast? Somehow, Nathan thinks that the simplification by Ava is not reasonable. But he decides to go ahead with the plan. On the beach, alone, Nathan puts forth his “proposition” to Matt, whose reaction we aren’t able to catch as Ava intently watches them.

The Episode Review

Based on a True Story opens up with a wild pilot. True crime is quite the obsession for most of us and episode 1 lays down the groundwork to exploit that obsession with lightheartedness. Kaley Cuoco and Chris Messina are in their element. They share a great chemistry and if that can be kept up, the show can be even more effective in its offering.

Tom Bateman only makes the equation better, and if indeed Matt is the serial killer, it could prove to be a unique twist on the podcast-serial killer trope. Only Murders in the Building reversed! Episode 1 had brilliant pacing, wherein the underlying tension about the marriage wasn’t swept under the rug. In this episode, we made more than decent catchup on plot progression.

We still need more evidence from Based on a True Story in upcoming episodes to assess its originality. But this is a fine start nonetheless.

Next Episode

You can read our full season review here
  • Episode Rating

Leave a comment