Condescension is an ephemeral concept; it exists only as an idea. You cannot see it, smell it, touch it or taste it.
Not unless you watch “The Thing About Pam,” a new NBC miniseries about Pamela Hupp. This is a show that drips in condescension, that swims in condescension, that rains in condescension.
Its whole purpose seems to be to make the viewer feel superior to the people of Lincoln County.
St. Louis-area viewers need no introduction to Hupp, Troy, Missouri, a woman who was convicted of one murder and charged with another, the 2011 death of Betsy Faria . Faria’s husband Russell was convicted of the murder in 2013 but acquitted in a retrial that focused on flaws in the prosecution’s case that ignored evidence that Hupp could have been the killer .
Police speculate that the man she was convicted of murdering, Louis Gumpenberger, was randomly selected and murdered in a senseless scheme to cast suspicion on Faria’s murder.
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And to top it off, Hupp’s mother died from a balcony in 2013, and Hupp was the last person to see her alive.
You’d think this bizarre and wacky story would make for a fascinating miniseries. You’d think there’s no possible way it could be so boring.
A big part of the problem is the decision to take what would make a tight two-episode series and stretch it into a soft six-episode saga.
All that extra time is spent looking down on the people of Lincoln County.
Look at the sticky Christmas decorations! Listen to the funny accents! Watch Pam mix cherry syrup in her big mug of Diet Dr Pepper! See the “I ♥ dogs” sticker on Pam’s car!
The creators of the show clearly think the bumper sticker is the funniest thing they’ve ever seen.
Two-time Oscar winner Renée Zellweger, who also serves as an executive producer, stars as Pam. Deep inside a chunky suit that makes her look a little heavier than the real Hupp ever was, she mouths her lines with her tongue deep in her prosthetic cheeks. To Zellweger’s credit, she makes every word that escapes Pam’s lips sound like a transparent lie. But she plays the role as broadly as possible.
Subtlety is dead everywhere in this series. Judy Greer plays the county prosecutor then known as Leah Askey, unjustifiably confident in what is portrayed by the series as her spectacularly limited abilities. Glenn Fleshler wickedly plays Russell Faria as a loose-jawed yokel.
By comparison, Josh Duhamel emerges relatively unscathed as defense attorney Joel Schwartz. Schwartz is portrayed as the only smart person in the entire cast – likely because, as the narration puts it, he “came to town” from the big city of St. Louis.
About this storytelling: In an embarrassing and brazen self-promotion, the show credits NBC’s “Dateline” with riding like a knight on a white stallion, digging history, and exposing it. Perhaps they were unaware of earlier reports from local media such as Post-Dispatch and KTVI.
“Dateline” correspondent Keith Morrison, who is cursed with perhaps the smartest, most self-satisfied voice in the world, has narrated five episodes of “Dateline” on Hupp over the years, and he also narrates this mini-series. The storytelling isn’t just disruptive and pointless, it’s also pompous, sophomoric, and mundane.
When Betsy Faria leaves her beloved mother for the last time, Morrison intones: “It’s hard to know when a goodbye would be important. Who would have ever thought that this farewell would turn out to be… forever?
While storytelling is clearly the low point, the series manages a few relative highs, if you can stick with it long enough to get to them. The inherently interesting audience scenes are crisp and well handled. They fail to even insult the intelligence of the viewers, which must be why they stand out.
Local viewers will be pleased to see that a few exterior scenes were shot in Troy, while others clearly weren’t. Keep an eye out for the palm trees in the background.
You know, the famous palm trees of Troy, Missouri.
What “The Thing About Pam” • When 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, starting March 8 • Or CNB • More information nbc.com/the-thing-about-pam
Renée Zellweger thought the Byzantine story of the wife of Troy, Missouri, could make big TV.