Eric: Is the Netflix Show Based on a True Story?

‘Eric’ narrates the story of Vincent, a puppeteer on a leading children’s show who begins to lose his mind when his son goes missing. Vincent is dealing with marital problems and struggling with the decline of his TV show. As a result, his son, Edgar, is often ignored and walks to school one day only to seemingly vanish. A police search is organized, and when he is not found within a week, Vincent and his wife begin to fear the worst.

Numbing his pain and guilt with alcohol, Vincent makes a puppet, Eric, conceptualized by Edgar, hoping that his son will see it on TV and come home. In Vincent’s tired mind, the big blue Eric comes to life and gives him company as he ventures into the dark side of 1980s New York City. The Netflix miniseries presents a heart-wrenching story set in a city on the brink of change, raising questions regarding its real-world inspirations.

Eric: The Story of a Father and His Search for Real Monsters

The narrative of ‘Eric’ comes from the mind of Abigail Louise Morgan OBE AKA Abi, a renowned Welsh playwright and screenwriter. She initially came up with the inspiration for the story when she was babysitting in New York during the mid-1980s and wanted to write something from the perspective of a child. She was also influenced by the terrifying stories of children going missing in the UK while she was growing up there. The series does add to its immersion with the depth of its backdrop and characters, its dark themes and twist on stereotypical puppets, and a nightmare scenario for any parent.

Benedict Cumberbatch brilliantly essays the central role of Vincent, whose emotional state of frustration and anger at his wife and job plunges into bottomless grief when Edgar is lost. We are drawn into Vincent’s story as a father unable to process the grief and guilt of being responsible for the loss of his son, resorting to substance abuse to lessen the pain, and grasping at straws to make amends. The setting of 1980s New York, based on Morgan’s experiences while living in the city, adds another layer of realism. We witness rampant crime, homelessness, and the AIDS epidemic in the backdrop as Vincent and Detective Ledroit enter the dark underbelly of the city.

The show recreates the era of the city facing high crime rates, homelessness, and urban decay. The crack epidemic surged, leading to increased violence and drug-related crimes, creating a gritty and dangerous atmosphere that serves as a compelling backdrop for the kidnapping storyline of ‘Eric.’ The time also saw a rise in children’s puppet TV shows, which had become quite popular and diverse. Real-life examples include ‘The Muppet Show,’ ‘Sesame Street,’ ‘The Great Space Coaster,’ and ‘Eureeka’s Castle.’ The characters and stories of the shows are often vibrant and deal with positive messages and morals.

In contrast, Vincent’s creation of Eric and his character coming to life presents a stark contrast to these themes. Instead of the bright, cheery, and slapstick puppets, Eric reflects the actual circumstances and emotional state of the era as a somber and critical puppet. Through him, Vincent, as well as the audience, finds a sense of catharsis to create a discourse on the sad and prevalent realities. Behind the scenes, the puppet did well to boost the mood of the cast and crew of ‘Eric’ as well. “When he first came to set, it was, it just… it was very fucking funny,” said Benedict Cumberbatch about first seeing Eric. “Because he couldn’t see; he banged into walls. There was this huge lumbering thing going, ‘Oh fuck,’ and ping-ponging around the set.”

Morgan recalled Eric having a similarly lighthearted effect on the rest of the team. “You know, there’s something that happens: everybody becomes childlike. I remember him standing among the crew and everybody, from the gaffer through to the costume designer, crowded round to see him. It was a really good moment,” the author added. A prevalent message throughout the show that resonates with mature audiences is that the real monsters aren’t under the bed. This is in reference to Eric being the monster under the bed, who, when brought to life, becomes more of a solace for Vincent.

The real monsters are alluded to being the corrupt people that Detective Ledroit seeks to root out and the criminal elements that may be responsible for the disappearance of Edgar. “Every parent has this nightmare,” said Morgan in the aforementioned interview, talking about the disappearance of a child. “I think, statistically, no more children disappear now than did 30 or 40 years ago, but it’s parental anxiety versus knowledge. My kids are 20 and 22 now, but I raised them in London and my friend was reminding me the other day how neurotic I was at fireworks displays; I’d be crawling around in the bushes, trying to find my kids in the dark. We know where the monsters are much more (than we once did), so it’s harder.”

Of course, parents are much more aware of the multitude of dangers to their children in society today than in the 1980s. This is one of the reasons many can imagine themselves in Vincent’s place, having made a critical parenting error by not realizing what dangers may befall a child while he simply walks to school. A similar case of a child disappearing in New York did take place in 1979. The case was of 6-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared while walking alone to the bus stop for the first time. The disappearance on May 25 was marked as National Missing Children’s Day by then-President Ronald Regan. He was also profiled on milk cartons in an effort to seek public help in locating the child. The reference of a missing child on a milk carton can be seen in the first episode of ‘Eric.’

Image Credit: NBC News

Sadly, Etan Patz was never found. In 2017, 56-year-old Pedro Hernandez, who was a bodega worker in 1979, was charged with the murder of Etan Patz and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Etan’s grieving father called his son’s killer a “monster.” ‘Eric’ is a work of fiction crafted by Abi Morgan from her own experiences in the Big Apple during the 1980s and the stories of kidnappings she heard while growing up in the UK. Owing to the detailed development of characters and an authentic and dark recreation of the setting, the show immerses us in the delirious story of Vincent and his missing son.

Read More: Where is Netflix’s Eric Filmed? Exploring All the Locations