If there is one good thing to say about The Thing About Pam is thank Allah they didn’t stretch this out to about 10 hours the way Netflix did with Inventing Anna. Thankfully, this true-crime limited series keeps everything short, mainly because there’s not much there. NBC is known for stretching it Dateline episodes out so it’s no surprise they used one of their popular cases to turn into a limited series since stories like this are very popular right now. .
Pam Hupp (Renee Zellweger in a fat suit and make-up) almost got away with murder. The only problem was she relied too much on the incompetence of one police department and district attorney. Thinking that lightning would strike twice, she brutally shot Louis Gumpenberger five times at her home in O’Fallon, Mo. Gumpenberger had both developmental and physical disabilities following a traffic collision in 2005. Pam shot him while trying to stage a 911 call making it believe Gumpenberger was threatening to kill him.
There was just several problems. One, that Gumpenberger didn’t have the physical abilities to do what Pam said he had done threatening her with a knfe. Two, the 911 call tipped off investigators to suspect something wasn’t right from the start. Three, she tried to blame it on Russ Faria (Glenn Fleshler) who was a good 1,000 miles away in Florida when Pam claims to have seen him in her neighborhood. Four, she had been driving around pretending to be a producer from Dateline offering people money and the authorities had already been tipped off about her. And five, she was in a totally different jurisdiction from the events that led Russ to be convicted for murder and then his conviction overturn and acquitted on a second trial.
Russ was initially convicted of brutally stabbing his wife, Betsy (Katy Mixon) mostly on the testimony of Pam. But it wasn’t just that. The Troy, Mo. police led by Detective Marrick (Mac Brandt) bungled the case and District Attorney Leah Askey (Judy Greer) only focused her attention on Russ, based on Pam’s testimony. The judge in the case Chris Mennemeyer (Heather Magee) also showed favoritism toward the prosecution and made it harder for Russ’ attorneys Joel Schwartz (a scene-stealing Josh Duhamel) and Nate Swanson (Ben Chase) to present a fair defense.
If anything else, the series is a look at how the judicial system relies too much on testimony, even if it’s questionable. Betsy Faria was murdered in 2011. In the era of CSI shows, there was a lot of questionable ways the police targeted Russ. It’s implied that Pam was the one who murdered Betsy and she was charged in 2021.
Pam just lucked out on the fact that a close-knit community like Troy would just assume Russ was the only one who could’ve done it, even though Pam gave her a ride home from her mother’s house. The one thing the series does do is paint Pam as the smart person she thinks she is. But in all honesty, she’s the type of person people cross the streets to avoid or pull out their cell phones and pretend to be talking. In reality, she’s a bully who just so happens to be around people who don’t want to confront her.
In the end, it was her own ego that did her in. What’s sad is that it took the murder of another person for people to realize that. Askey, who is now Leah Chaney, is no longer D.A. after losing to Mike Wood (Dane Davenport) who was electing on the platform of charging Pam with Betsy’s murder. The series indicates that Chaney is also being investigated for her actions in the case. Even though the series doesn’t mention Mennemeyer, she was voted out of office in 2018, the same year as Askey. In 2017, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that she “violated the judical code of ethics” after the Court of Appeals overturned other cases she presided over.
Maybe if the series had focused more on these issues and how they affect a small Midwestern community rather than subplots in which Pam is just being a mean-spirited bitch, the series might have had more juice. Zellweger thinks she’s giving an Emmy-nominated performance and she is very irritable, but unfortunately, the character is too one-dimensional. Even worse, it’s fat-shaming to have her in this role. It doesn’t help the tone of the series is more dark comedy. It tries to pull off a Fargo tone but without the special touch that movie had. And for the two (possibly three) brutal homicides associated with the events in this series, it’s in bad taste.
And that is it’s biggest problem. The series never fully addresses the issue of just how dangerous our judicial system can be. Now, there are many cases all over America in which people have been convicted on coerced confessions or testimony without substantial evidence. It’s implied that Russ wasn’t properly made aware of his Miranda rights and should’ve had an attorney during questioning. Pam is also suspected in the death of her mother, Shirley Neumann (Celia Weston), which was originally ruled an accident.
Pam entered an Alford plea in the Gumpenberger case, which means there was enough probable evidence to convict her but she wouldn’t admit her guilt. Yet the police and prosecutor should’ve considered Pam a prime suspect all the way back in 2011. While it’s not known if her mother would still be alive, as her health was failing, she wouldn’t have fallen to her death. It’s implied that Pam could’ve allegedly pushed her off the balcony of her room at a retirement home. But Gumpenberger would’ve still been alive. And the man who was shot five times probably had no clue what was happening when Pam picked him up. He thought he was getting some money.
Aside from Duhamel, Fleshler does what he can with the role of Russ. Fleshler often is cast as sleazy and seedy characters like Joker and Suburbicon. Here, he plays more of a gullible Midwesterner who went through hell for just having marital problems, like a lot of other people. As for Mixon as Betsy, she’s hardly in this series, I wonder why they hired her at all. Mixon is a very charming actress. Take her small role as a waitress in Hell or High Water. She was able to be memorable there. Here, not so much.
Speaking of Dateline from earlier, Keith Morrison narrates the series in his same tone that he gives in that series. This might have seen more comical if this was a true-crime parody. But since this is such a violent murder case, it’s just in bad taste.
Since Pam is charged with murder in Betsy’s murder, there’s always the possibility of a second season. But after the criticism of the series as well as Zellweger’s use of a fatsuit, I advise NBC to stick with yet another Dateline episode about it. And maybe in the future, change the title cards for the ending.
What do you think? Please comment.