Angelyne on Peacock is the total package

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When the titular Angelyne first appears in Peacock’s insightful, revisionist miniseries about the Los Angeles personality, she rejects her humanity. On her pink sheets in her pink bedroom, Angelyne (Emmy Rossum, sometimes unrecognizable under various prosthetics) whispers the “I’m an Icon” mantra that fueled her rise to the top of hundreds of Los Angeles billboards. Talent has nothing to do with Angelyne’s desire for fame. Her story is about ambition and the all-consuming way she puts someone at the center of her own universe, and how she materialized from the glamor and excess of 1980s Hollywood to teach the city her name. Angelyne is a niche character, but creator Nancy Oliver and showrunner Allison Miller’s miniseries weaves her story up into the cosmos the woman claims she came from, imbuing her with broader observations on femininity as industry and fantasy as self-preservation. “I’m not a woman,” insists Angelyne and Angeline explains why: people die, but fame can live forever.

The redemption storyline for female public figures has been chugging into movies and television for some time with varying degrees of predictability and success. Craig Gillespie set up a shop in this room I Tonya, Cruellaand the miniseries Pam & Tommy. Jessica Chastain won an Oscar for Best Actress for sanding down the edges of TV preacher Tammy Faye Bakker. Two documentaries about Britney Spears forced a reappraisal of how casual misogyny and public media coverage went hand in hand. Ryan Murphy redesigned Monica Lewinsky Impeachment: American Crime Storyand Shonda Rhimes did the same for con artist Anna Sorokin invent Anna. Enter this room Angeline“Inspired by Gary Baum’s facial features The Hollywood Reporter‘, with an awareness of the limitations of both the biopic and the talking-head documentary, and a willingness to disrupt both. To find the truth? Perhaps. But whose?

In its five episodes, which will be released on May 19, Angeline seeks to unravel the mystique of this “Billboard Queen” whose image loomed over the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s. The pictures always featured just her — her aggressive hourglass frame, gigantic bleach-blonde hair, chunky sunglasses and red lipstick — and the only text was her name and a phone number. Each episode shows why and how Angelyne became famous, combined Art-documentary frames and flashbacks to piece together a chronology of Angelyne’s life, supplemented with commentary by her and others. Various timelines describe how she made her way into the band Baby Blue thinking that music could make her a star; her decision to go alone and change her body to fit “who I am inside”; and her idolization of Marilyn Monroe and her belief that the best way to become famous is to just live like you are. (Decades later, she’s stuck to that mandate, and sightings of Angelyne in Los Angeles selling branded goods from the trunk of her pink Corvette still populate social media.)

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Meanwhile, talking-head interviews with Rossum-as-Angelyne and others support or punctuate these replicas. Angelyne calls herself “a Rorschach test in pink” that reveals the ingrained misogyny, judgment, or fetishization of others, and that observation plays out in the series’ cast. Hollywood reporter Journalist Jeff Glaser (Alex Karpovsky) and documentary filmmaker Max Allen (Lukas Gage) complain about Angelyne’s duplicity and demand to be paid to take part in their projects about her. Baby Blue’s lead guitarist and ex-boyfriend Cory Hunt (Philip Ettinger) and Wendy Wallach (Molly Ephraim), whose father printed and financed Angelyne’s billboards, have a more mixed reaction to Angelyne’s combination of combativeness and naivety. Perhaps most telling of the series’ purpose is Angelyne Fan Club President Rick Krause’s statement that “Angelyne always calls the shots,” which Hamish Linklater delivers with a mixture of awe and resignation. Through its real-life altered character names and glitzy, imaginative dream sequences, the show wants viewers to know it’s a mosaic with elements of fiction, and the layers of tongue-in-cheek distance it builds make that confidence clear.

Interview topics in 2019 contradict each other and weave opposite versions of events. Characters in 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s recreations break the fourth wall to argue over whose memories and version of events are more accurate, and details of those scenes change based on their opinions, such as the size and enthusiasm of a crowd that watching a musical performance in the first episode “Dream Machine”. On-screen text that sets times, dates, and locations creates more uncertainty with phrases like “depending on who you ask.” And yet the unreliability of Angelyne’s narrative—the childhood she doesn’t talk about, the ex-husband she doesn’t acknowledge, her refusal to be “constrained by the confines of this dimension”—has its own purpose. When she stops a re-creation to literally wipe out someone in it by telling them, “This isn’t about you. This is my story,” this moment conveys the limitations of fiction and the split between what we want to control and what we can’t.

Angeline revels in these separations, but differently Pam & Tommy, Tammy Fayeor invent Anna, it makes no apologies for her moments of pettiness, vanity, or selfishness. She’s a feminist who fights repellent men who call her a bimbo because of her bust size, and a bad boss who drives her employees down, and a victim of generational trauma thrown into the world of make-believe that is Hollywood, escaped, and a character who describes herself as a “sex goddess” and sells a certain cartoonish image of herself without really being interested in the physical act. Angeline gives totality to his titular theme, and Rossum easily bounces between Angelyne’s flirtatious, sexy-baby voice and a hard, direct gaze, all seduction wiped away.

Actors love the opportunity for a transformative performance, and Rossum steps in with relish. The high kicks that become part of Angelyne’s stage style, the breathy “Oohs!” she joins the conversation, the way she curls her fingers or stretches out her arms to express either frustration or joy, the little pout she makes on the Adding “I hate liars” to the end of the line – it all adds up to a woman to perform everything the time or none of the time, and the strength of Rossum’s work is that it conveys such evasiveness without artifice. The series’ meticulous editing also helps, adding humor to Angelyne’s interview segments as she trash-calls people who then shake their heads in confusion and disbelief, and later encases her in some sort of defensive armor as she confronts an imaginary alien version of herself interacts . It’s a little too neat, like Angeline opaque presents questions about displacement, homeland, identity and fantasy before offering rather explicit answers. But Rossum’s performance, equally scorching and gritty, begs the assumption that we actually do to know Angelyne, even if we know it above She.

Is this reluctance a way of honoring the real Angelyne, who was originally announced as executive producer and granted access to her life rights, trademarks, songs and artwork, but who now has no official credit for the miniseries about her life? Perhaps. (This mini-series is a passion project for Rossum, who was 13 when she first came across an Angelyne billboard and spoke about the effort she went to to show Angelyne her genuine interest when the project was in of development was.) All these different layers of dodges, kaleidoscopic perspectives, and slivers of self-mythology feel like what Angelyne might have wanted. “Back then, you could still disappear or reappear as someone else. That’s no longer possible,” says Glaser in one of the series’ meta lines. But in its thorough, thoughtful portrayal of how Angelyne shattered the illusory line between secrecy and sincerity, the miniseries gives both woman and icon the freedom to do just that.

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Lindsay Lowe

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