The Peacock series “Angelyne,” about the mysterious blond bombshell who graced LA billboards in the ’80s, is quirkier than your standard biopic.
Now streaming, the limited series follows Angelyne (Emmy Rossum, “Shameless”), nee Ronia Tamar Goldberg, who, for decades, has been an iconic curiosity driving around in her pink Corvette (think a more Hollywood version of the infamous Times Square Naked Cowboy) and appearing on billboards where it wasn’t clear what she was advertising — aside from her own desire for everyone to know her face.
As depicted from a nearly unrecognizable Rossum (who’s buried beneath a platinum bouffant, fake chest and Minnie Mouse voice), Angelyne’s aesthetic is part Dolly Parton, part Barbie. The show compares her to a prototype of figures who are “famous for being famous” such as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. (The real Angelyne, now 71, is an executive producer on this series.)
If Rossum (who’s also an executive producer) was looking for a role that strayed as far as possible from her brunette, stressed out, impoverished, Chicago-based Fiona Gallagher, “Angelyne” is it. She’s clearly having a blast embracing campy glamour, infusing her performance with a mix of coy charm, ethereal melancholia, bubbly ambition and a borderline delusional determination to manifest her own reality.
Angelyne’s real name, identity, and past as a Polish descendant of Holocaust survivors were a mystery until a 2017 Hollywood Reporter article. The series opens to an offscreen man reading that article to Angelyne, as she lies on pink silk bedding, before flashing back to a screen card that reads in pink lettering, “1981 or 1982, depending on who you ask…”
“Angelyne” is playful with the truth: characters are based on real-life figures, but with changed names. For instance, that 2017 article is by Gary Baum, but in the series, the journalist character (played by Alex Karpovsky, “Girls”) is named Jeff Glasner. (And, to make it confusing, when Hugh Hefner, played by Toby Huss, briefly appears, his name isn’t changed.)
The narrative jumps back and forth between depicting Angelyne’s origins through the decades, and 2019, when older versions of the characters talk to the camera interview-style, giving conflicting accounts of what happened.
The 2019 Angelyne says that in the late ’70s, she asked her then-boyfriend Cory (Philip Ettinger) to join here tape; meanwhile, the 2019 version of Cory tells the camera that he asked her to join his band (Angelyne also proclaims that he’s dead, while the shot cuts to Cory rolling his eyes and saying, “I am not dead. Man, of course she would say that”).
This style makes the series more zany than the average paint-by-numbers biopic. It never feels like we linger too long on any one era of her life, since the episodes focus on her relationships with different people. Among others, there’s Harold Wallach (Martin Freeman), who ran a printing company and funded her billboards; Rick Krause (Hamish Linklater), her assistant and the president of her fan club; Danny (Michael Arango), her first love; and aspiring filmmaker Max Allen (Lukas Gage), to whom she was a documentary subject.
The show’s fast-and-loose approach to facts and the nature of memory can be frustrating (and a bit distracting, in the case of some goofy wigs, such as Linklater’s) but also feels appropriate for such a self-mythologizing figure.
If you want a hard-hitting biography, this series isn’t it. But if you want a show that conveys some information about this pseudo-celebrity – whether or not it’s accurate – this is a vibrant series that’s more interested in the stories that people tell themselves than it is in cold hard facts. And in its own way, that’s the most truthful way to look at someone’s life.