Peacock’s Angelyne limited series spends about four hours telling you what you can easily find out in four minutes of a Wikipedia search. Hollywood is a very incestuous industry and I’m sure after hearing Netflix was doing a limited series about Anna Delvey; Hulu was doing a limited series about Elizabeth Holmes and Candy Montgomery, which is also being prepared for HBO Max, Peacock wanted in on the game. So, execs scoured the Internet and in-depth magazine articles for a series about a woman with a stranger than fiction past.
And they found Angelyne, who must’ve watched Barbarella when she was a teenager and thought, “Ok, why don’t I live the rest of my life like this?” The series takes four episodes getting to its guts of who Angelyne is, which is a big problem. Born Ronia Goldberg in post-WWII Poland, her parents emigrated to the United States. Her parents were Holocaust survivors who were bitter and angry as well as struggling with grief. They raised their kids to be Jewish daughters under strict guidelines that in the 1950s and 1960s was considered “tough love” but now considered child abuse.
Like a lot of young women of the era, she married very young thinking it was a way out but only got worse. This part of the series shows why she changed her name to Angelyne and did everything she could even in the Internet digital age to keep her past hidden. Angelyne was a woman who wasn’t going to confirm to the standards of the times. As Ronia Goldberg, and referred to here as Rachel at times, she was expected to marry a Jewish accountant, doctor, lawyer or businessman. As her mother tells her, marry a man she can always choose to agree with to make things simpler.
Emmy Rossum plays the titular character with a lot of make-up and wigs that it makes the transformation Lily James underwent to play Pamela Anderson look like a beauty college student’s first day of school. Rossum basically carries the series and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s set in a mockumentary style with numerous actors hiding behind making and wigs themselves to make themselves look not the least bit believable as someone who’s supposed to be 30-40 years older. Even the quick make-up they do for actors on Saturday Night Live looks more impressive.
However, Martin Freeman manages to steal the scenes he’s in as Harold Wallach, a Jewish businessman who was the first to put Angelyne on the billboards around the Los Angeles area. Freeman seems to be channeling Albert Brooks as he gets enticed but later soon regrets doing business with Angelyne. Wallach is based on real-life businessman Hugo Maisnik, who had a display-printing business. Freeman and Rossum together are the series highlights.
But the problem is the series doesn’t know where to go elsewhere. The frame story is about a journalist, Jeff Glaser (Alex Karpovsky), trying to do a story on her but finding things difficult. Angelyne became somewhat more famous during the infamous 2003 California governor recall in which she ran along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gary Coleman as well as many others. Angelyne also ran in the 2021 recall election.
This is barely mentioned in passing. It probably would’ve made for a more interesting series. Instead, we get too much of Angelyne acting like a spoiled, pampered woman who expected everyone to give her money just because she was who she was. And who was Angelyne? Just a billboard model. A big mess is made about her small scene in Earth Girls Are Easy where she appeared on screen with Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans before they were well-known. An entire episode is devoted to an asipring filmmaker trying to do a documentary but it goes nowhere fast and just becomes repetitive.
A lot is made that Angelyne was famous just for being famous, but a lot of celebrities before her also had the same “celebrity status.” Angelyne was also a singer too, but not much is mentioned about that after the first episode. Like Inventing Ana and The Dropout, it seems to focus more on her forceful style of demanding money and certain stipulations that even A-listers whose movies have grossed billions wouldn’t demand. She gets upset over the fact that her trailer for Earth Girls had her listed as “Gas Girl” instead of just Angelyne.
I see people like this online with Instagram and Snapchat. They’re women who think men should pay for everything from their nails to their Starbucks orders to their high-priced drinks for their party nights out. Isn’t OnlyFans just the same thing as what Angelyne was doing selling stuff out of her pink Corvette?
If the series got to the heart of this, it might have been better. Imagine what it was like to come of age during the late 1960s and 1970s when women were expected to burn their bras and not shave their armpits, but all Angelyne wanted to do was to live like a real-life Barbie. We have toys that present a false reality of what young women are supposed to grow up to be but we get angry when they decide to live that life for real.
Thankfully, the five-part series doesn’t drag on like Inventing Ana (which was a boringly long 10 hours) and The Dropout, which made us want to be sympathetic to what Holmes did. But that’s part of the problem. There’s no reason to empahtize with Angelyne. She got away from a toxic household but seemed to just turn around and project that toxicity on others through personal and professional relationships. And you don’t even care about the people she stepped on because the actors in the roles seem to be playing it for laughs.
The real life Angelyne has spoken out against the series and we would expect that to happen. Rossum does what she can with the role and I’m sure she will probably get an Emmy nomination as should Freeman. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t have the same feel for the material. It was almost as if the series was trying to evoke the style and feel of the real Angelyne but looks more like a bad imitation. Part of the reason her role in Earth Girls works so well as the overall tone of that movie fit with Angelyne’s personality.
And like that movie, Angelyne has become almost forgotten in this day and age. She comes off as one of these people who peaked in high school and still wants to sit with in the students section a good 10 years after graduation.
What do you think? Please comment.