If you live in Los Angeles, it’s a rite of passage to see the bright pink convertible driven by Angelyne. A B-movie actress of few credits (“Earth Girls Are Easy”) and largely regarded as famous for being famous, her ubiquitous billboards became shorthand for ’80s Los Angeles. In 2017, The Hollywood Reporter published an expose that claimed to reveal her life, although Angelyne disputed the story (not anything specific, just its existence).
With so much still unknown about Angelyne and anyone outside LA understandably hard-pressed to know who she is, star Emmy Rossum and creator Nancy Oliver have their work cut out for them. “Angelyne” is a hot pink, rapid-fire series focused on the nature of identity and the way our memory informs who we are. With a fun, unique structure, and producer-star Rossum slathering herself in prosthetics and body-hugging costumes, “Angelyne” becomes a highly entertaining and heartfelt look at a Los Angeles icon.
From the first moments of its pilot, expertly directed by “Ingrid Goes West” helmer Matt Spicer, “Angelyne” is a story told through the perceptions of those who lived it. The series lives within a landscape where memories change, especially over the ensuing decades, and no one’s memory is more accurate than Rossum’s Angelyne. Told in a pseudo-documentary style, Angelyne talks about herself — as do the various people who have entered and exited her life. Angelyne gives her version of events, which is always said to be definitive despite the facts. “Cory?” she says, talking about a young man who let her join his band in the 1980s. “Well, he’s dead.” Cut to poor Cory, alive and well, declaring himself not dead at all.
To those cast aside by Angelyne, she is the living embodiment of the devil. Angelyne’s first manager, and the man famous for setting up her billboards (Martin Freeman) ignores his wife and daughter to be in the Angelyne business. As his daughter says, she might have exaggerated her hatred, but for those hurt by Angelyne the pain is enough to, as the episode depicts, leave them smashing a breakfast table.
In Angelyne’s world, it’s easy to see that if she doesn’t like you, you might as well be dead. For Cory, this was a cosmic meeting of two souls destined to be together forever; for Angelyne, it was an opportunity to break into showbiz. The truth, no doubt, lies somewhere in between but the way Rossum plays Angelyne always keeps the audience on her side. Whether she’s keeping a car Cory gave her, and breaking his heart, or standing up to Hugh Hefner and saying she won’t pose nude, Angelyne is blazing a trail on her own terms.
It’s also easy to catch glimpses of why she is afraid to be vulnerable. As she tells Cory, she dreams of being like Barbie because “she doesn’t cry or feel pain.” As the series goes on, it’s clear something happened to this woman that makes her resist remembering things as they are. Worshipping at the literal altar of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, the series reiterates that Angelyne wanted to be just as iconic only without suffering their pain and trauma.
Rossum’s characterization nimbly moves between vulnerability, arrogance, and comedy and shetruly loses herself in the performance. It’s helped by the astounding makeup and costume work, but Rossum seems to understand that Angelyne feels like she’s on a different plane (one that Angelyne would no doubt approve of). The rest of the cast is solid, but they’re all moons that orbit around the planet Angelyne.
The biggest challenge for a series like “Angelyne” is all the fun and candy-coated insanity can make its episodes feel like vignettes rather than an arc. The first three episodes shown to press shows Angelyne’s rise, but the potential for a deeper story is unclear when Angelyne only sees positive in every situation. With only five episodes, the series’ sense of fun might leave the audience saying, “We had a great time, but now what?”
Regardless, if you’re a fan of camp and flash, “Angelyne” is for you. Rossum is utterly captivating, finding nuance in a character who’s an icon — even if it’s only in her mind.
“Angelyne” is available to watch on Peacock.