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Angelyne’s story of an LA icon raises the bar for docu-dramas 

Angelyne Featured Emmy Rossum Martin Freeman

Peacock’s new series plays with the messiness of memory and truth to stand out among biopics.

Angelyne, the enigmatic blonde bombshell whose likeness once dominated over 200 billboards all across Los Angeles in the 1980s, has only ever been promoting one thing: herself. With a mountain of platinum locks atop her head and a chest of truly unearthly proportions, she had the entire city asking who is Angelyne? But creator Nancy Oliver (True BloodSix Feet Under) and showrunner Allison Miller’s (Brave New World) new miniseries argues that that’s the wrong question entirely. Instead, the real question is, what is Angelyne? What does she represent to herself, the city, and celebrity culture in general? 

She’s a local LA icon often referred to as the original Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian — Angelyne became famous through grit and determination for simply being Angelyne. Without the help of social media, she became larger than life. Actress Emmy Rossum completely disappears inside of her. 

Angelyne Emmy Rossum and Hamish Linklater
Emmy Rossum and Hamish Linklater visit the trailer park. (Isabella Vosmikova/Peacock)

Rossum, famous for her roles in Phantom of the Opera and Shameless, is anything but an obvious choice to play this bizarre cult figure. Nonetheless, she absolutely nails it. With every kick of her leg and signature girlish squeal, it’s almost impossible to remember Rossum’s the one beneath the layers of bleach and prosthetics. She even endured blisters from the heavy fake chest she wore during the shoot. But what radiates throughout her performance, and indeed what sells it, is the respect she clearly has for this woman. Angelyne may be funny, and she may be strange, but she is never, ever a joke. 

And that’s really what showrunner Oliver wants to communicate with this series, that even a woman as absurd and self-obsessed as Angelyne deserves respect. This is probably why the real-life Angelyne agreed to let Oliver and Rossum tell her story. 

With every kick of her leg and signature girlish squeal, it’s almost impossible to remember Rossum’s the one beneath the layers of bleach and prosthetics.

Just seven years earlier, the Hollywood Reporter decided they didn’t need her blessing to air her entire family history for the world to see. You see, for being so visible, the real Angelyne is astonishingly private, and the mystery around her has always been a huge part of her appeal. So Gary Baum’s 2015 article, for all its thoughtfulness, might as well have been a hit piece in Angelyne’s eyes. Oliver’s show was a chance to remedy everything she felt the article had gotten wrong about her. 

It uses a faux-documentary style, including talking-head interviews, to dig into the parts of Angelyne’s past that she’d argue matter. Hell, Alex Karpovsky (Girls), looking like he fell straight out of the NPR offices, even plays a fictionalized stand-in for Gary Baum (except here his character has been renamed Jeff Glasner).  

Angelyne Martin Freeman and Molly Ephraim
Martin Freeman and Molly Ephraim dine well. (Isabella Vosmikova/Peacock)

But Oliver isn’t interested in merely rehashing what Baum wrote. Instead, Angelyne prioritizes Angelyne’s perspective. As she spits at the end of episode one, “This is my story… Don’t you dare try to make it about you.” 

The show takes the time to explore the way Angelyne’s past doesn’t exist for her. She views it as entirely separate from herself and who she is now. In her mind, her past has nothing to do with her, so why on earth would it be anyone else’s business? 

So for Oliver, this show isn’t about “the truth” of Angelyne. Instead, it embraces the idea that truth isn’t as firm or finite as we think. It’s as malleable as memory. It suggests that if Angelyne’s an unreliable narrator, so is everyone else. Even the title cards flashing the year often end in question marks or with an asterisk declaring, “it depends who you ask…” Nothing is certain. All of these stories seem to be up for debate. 

Angelyne Tonatiuh, Martin Freeman, Charlie Rowe, and Emmy Rossum
Tonatiuh, Martin Freeman, Charlie Rowe, and Emmy Rossum appreciate the scenery. (Peacock)

Episodes blend fantasy and reality in a way where even the edits are full of humor. Quick cuts snap the audience between different versions of a story in the same scene as a way to remind them that everyone’s memories carry their own baggage. No one’s story is purely fact. But director Lucy Tcherniak (Station Eleven) also goes bigger and bolder with the material, even making Angelyne’s famous pink Corvette take flight, soaring through the sky above LA. These moments communicate more about what Angelyne really is than any of the backstory reporters and onlookers were so desperate to know. After all, she’s a self-described “Rorschach test in pink.” 

Angelyne rises above the deluge of biopic/docu-dramas currently clogging streaming services. It towers over them, as tall as the 85-foot rendering of Angelyne that once stood at Hollywood and Vine. It’s a show with a crystal clear vision thoughtfully carried through each and every minute of every episode. Where lesser shows can feel like regurgitated podcasts and think pieces, every moment of Angelyne is splendidly cinematic. You can only hope it inspires the next crop of shows in the genre to step up their game. Then again, if the show’s communicated anything, it’s that there can only be one Angelyne.

Angelyne gazes out across the valley May 19 on Peacock.

Angelyne Trailer:

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Sarah Gorr

Sarah Gorr is a film critic and copywriter based in Los Angeles. In her spare time she's crafting cocktails and working on her k/d. You can find her on Twitter at @sgorr and read more of her work at www.sarahgorr.com.

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