Is Eric a true story? Benedict Cumberbatch lives every parent’s worst nightmare in new Netflix show

Viewers describe the series as 'heartbreaking'

Ivan Howe in Eric
(Image credit: Ludovic Robert/Netflix)

Is Eric a true story? Every parent’s worst nightmare plays out in Netflix's latest show, against a backdrop of 80s New York grappling with AIDS and racism.

Eric is a six part Netflix original series written by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady), starring Benedict Cumberbatch as genius and narcissistic puppeteer named Vincent. Mastermind of the puppet-based hit show Good Day Sunshine, Vincent is forced to reassess his life, behaviour, marriage, and ongoing intergenerational conflict with his parents, when his nine-year-old son Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe) goes missing. 

Vincent becomes hooked on the belief that Edgar will return, if the puppet he was working on for Vincent's show comes to life. The titular Eric then enters proceedings - a monstrous vision only Vincent can see (also voiced by Cumberbatch,) acting as a physical manifestation of his rapidly deteriorating mental health and giving voice to everything Vincent is unable to say out loud. 

Although the central storyline involves the nightmare scenario of a missing child, universally feared by parents, the series encompasses racism, drug use, and homophobia amid the rising hysteria of the AIDS crisis. It's 80s New York, but not with the feel-good nostalgia most view the era with, although the hard-hitting issues are important in the way they shaped history. As with many hit shows, those who identify with the series' themes, want to know whether it's a true story - the creator has spoken out.  

Is Eric a true story?

Eric isn't based on true events, but reflects the experiences of creator Abi Morgan and encounters she had living in New York in the 80s. Speaking to Radio Times, Morgan said "I think growing up in the UK in the 80s, I remember being haunted by those stories of children who had gone missing, and then when I went to New York, I looked after a young boy in New York in the mid 80s."

She adds "While I was out there, I saw the milk carton kids and the missing persons. So that has always been very haunting. I think in choosing to go back to that time, I wanted to go back to that very vivid period in history where, obviously, there were those cases.

But in many ways, it was more a kind of shout-out to those cities where kids can go missing. At the heart of the show is Vincent’s belief that 'I want to live in a world where a child goes out into the world and can come home safe."

Although the series isn't focussed on a specific missing child, there's one scene encompassing something all parents have faced at some point - judgment. During a press briefing about Edgar's disappearance, a journalist addresses Vincent with: "Letting him walk to school when he was only in fourth grade, is that a decision you regret?"

This is a totally unhelpful take, when busy parents make decisions that could one way or another - Vincent and his wife were simply unlucky and clearly, nobody deliberately chooses to put their child in harm's way or hopes for a terrible outcome for their choices.

Instead of blaming parents for not being able to keep their children safe, the series points to wider issues resulting in crimes including kidnapped (or runaway) kids, including homelessness, drugs, and societal stressors that lead to mental health breakdown. Overall, the series offers viewers a lot to think about, even if some have found it uncomfortable and confronting, as well as absolutely heartbreaking. 

For more on TV, we take a look at the Normal People season 2 rumours, and share our very own real-life Marianne and Connell moments. A Bridgerton star has very famous parents - you'll definitely recognise them, and we weigh in on whether you should let your teenager watch the steamy show.  

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.