Angelyne will air on Peacock on May 19, 2022.
If you’ve been to Los Angeles between 1984 and now and visited the tourist hotspots, chances are you’ve seen Angelyne’s busty blonde image gracing a massive billboard or a random wall, or even the woman herself cruising around in her pink Corvette. Peacock’s limited series, Angelyne, attempts to pull off the pancake makeup of the woman who’s turned into the town’s de facto mascot. Unlike many other biographical series, this one takes an entertaining and goofy approach that ends up capturing the spirit of its subject perfectly. Its story unfolds in multiple ways, from documentary mock confessionals to “he said/she said” scenarios of past events, with even a bit of magical realism sprinkled throughout. The frothy blend of storytelling allows a good deal of Angelyne’s mystique to remain intact, while presenting just enough real story to give substance to the whole effort.
A big part of why the show works is Emmy Rossum (Shameless), who doubles down on the limited series as executive producer with partner Sam Esmail (Mister Robot) and playing the titular icon. She’s bubbly, sassy, and completely determined to make Angelyne more than just her measurements. And the series’ non-linear format gives Rossum a wide canvas to convincingly play Angelyne from the age of 17 until now, in her 70s. The makeup team is quite successful in transforming Rossum via prosthetics and heavy makeup into Angelyne’s larger-than-life personality. However, the aging makeup and wigs of the male characters don’t come off as well. Luckily, Rossum’s performance is never drowned out by any outward gimmicks. From plastic surgery breasts spilling out of her suits to the signature coo that crowns many of Angelyne’s phrases, Rossum works all of the most garish elements of womanhood into a rather charming package.
Loosely based on a 2017 The Hollywood Reporter exposes about the real Angelyne, showrunner Allison Miller uses the undisputed facts of her life from that story to frame the series in a quasi-documentary. The cast members play key characters in Angelyne’s life (just with changed names), and each speaks to the camera sharing their “truths” and experiences of living in Mercurial Woman’s orbit. From her bandmate/ex-boyfriend to her personal assistant and even the writer of the magazine report, everyone is stepping in to try and shed some light on the Angelyne they “know”. And each of them, including Angelyne, quickly proves to be unreliable narrators, whom the screenwriters use to create very funny “he said/she said” sequences that break the traditional conventions of biopic storytelling. Scenes from her life break down in the middle of the action as Angelyne challenges someone’s version of events, or she might enter a sequence with a first-person rebuttal, of course correcting what she not comfortable sharing with the world.
At first, these breaks from reality are a little strange to navigate, but then the genius of the format becomes apparent. Angelyne’s dedication to harnessing the power of her own story and bringing it together in territory she can control is exactly how the woman has meticulously curated the enigmatic fantasy that has become her personality. By letting her inject herself into this retelling of her story, we get a taste of how she has controlled her narrative for decades. Angelyne may have projected herself as a bimbo, but the show makes it clear that this was a trashy smokescreen to mask the dogged machinations she went through to achieve her dream of fame. The mistakes of her idol, Marilyn Monroe, were not lost on Angelyne and there is much to admire in her vision of figuring out how to create a city with a perpetual focus on her.
The first three episodes, “Dream Machine”, “Gods and Fairies” and “Glow in the Dark Queen of the Universe”, explore the “how” to achieve one’s ambitions. Starting in her late teens, we see how Angelyne understood how to strongly push even the most flexible people towards fulfilling her wants and needs. With her platinum hair, kitten voice and New Age ideals, Angelyne manifested herself as a living, breathing Barbie doll. And perhaps her biggest trick is that she used her sex appeal to seduce, manipulate and confuse many, but, according to this account, never openly exchanged sexual favors as most assume. In fact, there’s almost an asexual nature to the way the series shows her navigating her closest relationships, even the emotional affairs having an almost innocent quality to them.
The final two episodes, “The Tease” and “Pink Clouds,” are the show’s best because they separate myth from fiction. They focus on Max (Lukas Gage), a naive young documentarian who gets her approval to tell the story of her life. He quickly becomes frustrated and bankrupt when she refuses to share anything important about his life. It all turns into an arbitration stalemate, but his investigations inform The Hollywood Reporter’s eventual story, which in turn forces fairy tale and fact to finally collide. Rossum rises to the occasion once again, ditching the glitz and camp to tell the stripped-down origin story. Enough blanks are filled in for us to finally understand why Angelyne was born and needed to exist. And the production takes great pains to make sure the truth doesn’t diminish the fantasy. In fact, in the end, it celebrates personality in an ingenious way. You are left laughing and admiring her singular dedication to the Hollywood story that she crafted for herself and wanted to exist.