At the start of Peacock’s Angelyne, the mononymous celeb informs her audience: “I am not a woman. I’m an icon.” She repeats the words, her voiceover hypnotically hanging above pastel-pink credits. “I am not a woman. I’m an icon.” With a flutter of her fuchsia eyelids, executive producer and star Emmy Rossum suddenly appears as the walking-talking cult classic and self-appointed “Queen Of The Universe.” The actor channels multiple eras of Angelyne for the sparkling five-part miniseries, but plays her older and more vulnerable in the beginning–soft yet fabulous, like glitter mixed with talcum powder. “I am not a woman,” Angelyne says once more, this time steeling herself in a moment of fleeting insecurity. “I’m an icon. Read it.”
But who is she? Based in part on Gary Baum’s 2017 exposé of Angelyne for The Hollywood Reporter–it’s directly quoted by Angelyne Fan Club President Rick Krause (Hamish Linklater) in the remainder of that tense opening scene–Angelyne tells the quintessential SoCal story of a blonde whose mysterious past captured the imagination of a city. For years, Angelenos wondered about this “Rorschach test in pink,” whose face was inexplicably plastered on billboards at major intersections throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Angelyne would—and, to some extent, still does—speed around town in her hot pink Corvette, signing autographs, selling merchandise, posing for photos, dancing on the hood of her car, and occasionally claiming to be an alien. But the model/actor/singer/art-installation refused to talk about her real history as she rose to fame. So rumors swirled about who Angelyne was, where she came from, and, most intriguing, how she paid for all that self-promotion.
Created by Nancy Oliver (Six Feet Under), with executive producer Allison Miller (Brave New World) doubling as showrunner, Angelyne doesn’t debunk every myth about the local legend; no series ever could. But this technicolor portrait of Hollywood’s sweet-yet-spicy hometown hero offers something almost better. It’s a searingly fun chance to decide for yourself what’s real and what’s fiction on the spiritually charged Planet Angelyne. Though the show’s plot is anchored in how the world sees her–dramatizing Baum’s revelatory article and other seemingly true Angelyne accounts from third parties (which, let’s be honest, not all of which the actual Angelyne will love seeing discussed so publicly)–its execution is infused with the titular star’s otherworldly sensibilities and a palpable love for her life’s work. (It’s worth noting here that Angelyne received $1 million and an executive producer credit for this project.)
Partly stylized as a mockumentary, Oliver’s stupidly entertaining limited series uses eclectic storytelling techniques to deliver a TV ride best likened to the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney World, though you’ll hear more Electric Light Orchestra than Aerosmith. It’s packed with time jumps, unreliable narrators, meta moments, and blooming musical celebrations, the sort of slippery stuff other series often screw up.
Directors Matt Spicer (Ingrid Goes West) and Lucy Tcherniak (Station Eleven) deftly navigate the lightning-fast wit of Angelyne’s talented writing team with bold decisiveness, hopping between reality and fantasy sequences at a dizzying speed. That they do so without ever missing a good joke is a testament to their appreciation for the material. (“I thought about writing a screenplay once, about a scientist who creates a giant bra that turns me into a genius who can fight evil…” may be among the funniest lines of the year.)
Danny Glicker’s (Bad Times At The El Royale) costume work is obsession worthy, and the prosthetic-heavy transformation of Rossum, a team up of makeup designer Kate Biscoe (Vice) and prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyke (Our Flag Means Death), works wonders. If the masterful but undoubtedly heavy creation complicates the acting, Rossum doesn’t let it show. The former Shameless star delivers a fiery performance kindled in camp that’s explosive start to finish, yes, but also nuanced. Rossum’s ’80s and present-day Angelynes feel appropriately similar but also logically evolved.
An unabashed lover of admirers, Angelyne has a story that’s lined with fans-turned-foes-turned-fans: punk rocker Cory Hunt (Philip Ettinger), in-over-his-head printer Harold Wallach (Martin Freeman), aspiring filmmaker Max Allen (Lukas Gage), and gaggles more B-characters baffled by her magic. In the end, scene by scene, tête-à-tête by tête-à-tête, rumor by rumor, the show makes that enigmatic face on billboards about as fully realized as you could hope.