Ed Helms and Randall Park’s unscripted storytelling series forgets to bring the laughs.
Before the Chicago improv theater, iO, closed from the pandemic in the summer of 2020, they used to play a game called “The Dream” during shows. An audience volunteer (usually tipsy) would walk on stage and an interviewer would ask them about their day in detail. The cast of the show, listening intently from downstage, would then recreate their day, beat by beat, with heightened physicality and bits. Most nights it was barely watchable, but if anyone saw it and thought, “This should be a TV show,” then Peacock’s got the show for them.
Based on the Australian series True Story with Hamish and Andy, the American version swaps out Hamish and Andy for comedic actors more familiar on this side of the planet: Ed Helms and Randall Park. Together they interview normal people with a great tale to share. The show cuts back and forth between the interview, taking place on a comfy-looking set with leather chairs, and Drunk History-like reenactments featuring comedic actors playing the storyteller. These segments are supposed to be where the “jokes” live, but the problem is they aren’t funny or interesting enough to work on their own or support these fantastic anecdotes.
In the first episode, a Pennsylvanian named Rick tells the hosts about the time he snuck into Super Bowl XIII to watch the Steel Curtain-era Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys in Miami. One of the reenactments is a fake sports show with co-anchors played by Rob Riggle and Erik Griffin, who comment on Rick’s attempt to break into the Super Bowl like the attempt itself is an athletic competition. It’s a cute way to comment on the late ’70s time period, but it adds nothing besides giving Riggle another chance to do what he was put on this Earth for: playing overly confident but insecure alpha males.
These reenactments never laugh at the storyteller like in Drunk History, but they never do them justice either. They live in a weird purgatory where they may generate a few chuckles but are mostly a distraction. I want to listen to a guy talk about how he and his brothers broke into a stadium to see their beloved team win a championship, not watch Adam Pally play the narrator going through the motions, but just a little goofier. There is one inspired choice though: casting Terry Bradshaw as his young self when he was the Steelers QB (including his old hairpiece).
The second story is told by a Muslim woman named Yasmin whose family fled Egypt and found themselves in Huntsville, Alabama when she was a child. She talks about how her father made them watch the USA Network, thinking that was the best way to learn about America since it’s in the name. At the time, USA Network was home to the World Wrestling Federation (now the WWE). This leads to another funny bit in the reenactments when Yasmin falls in love with professional wrestling and the actress playing her, Ariana Elavia, casually wears a fake championship belt around her school.
But for every bit that works there are ten others that fall flat, like an eye-rolling scene where Yasmin confronts a school bully that’s staged like a typical wrestling promo, only in a school cafeteria. Her story gets more remarkable when she decides to run for class president at her High School immediately after 9/11, but like the first episode, it gets bogged down with the reenactments as well.
These storytellers are fascinating people, and their stories are worth listening to, but you may not want to sit through a mediocre comedy show to get them.
True Story with Ed and Randall airs Thursdays on Peacock.