But who is Angelyne, anyway? The answer, as posited in Peacock’s limited series about the figure, is “whatever Angelyne wants herself to be.” Based on Gary Baum’s articles on Angelyne for The Hollywood Reporter and created by Nancy Oliver (“True Blood,” “Six Feet Under”), “Angelyne” makes merry play of the lines between identity and delusion, and does it with all the bubbly verve of the real-life figure it’s digging at. It’s brilliant stuff.
“I am not a woman,” Angelyne (Emmy Rossum) coos to herself in the opening moments of the series. “I am an icon.” Her eyes are closed, her delivery sure; in the parlance of our times, she’s manifesting. She shapes her reality, and over “Angelyne”’s five episodes, that need for control over her own self-perception—and our perception of her—extends to the aesthetic fabric of the show itself. What results is a winking camp opus about the liberating power of delusion, and just how far you can take a fantasy if you can get everyone else to believe in it along with you.
Each of the series’ five episodes, directed by Lucy Tcherniak (“The End of the F***king World”) and Matt Spicer (“Ingrid Goes West,” another arch tale of a woman reinventing herself in LA), largely center themselves around the people—mostly men—who’ve been sucked into Angelyne’s gravitational pull and slingshot out the other side, supporting players in her rags-to-riches-to-??? story. There’s Freddy (Charlie Rowe), the himbo rocker whose up-and-coming rock band Angelyne Yokos her way into, and promptly destroys to build publicity for herself. There’s Harold Wallach (Martin Freeman), the unassertive billboard printer who gets roped into being Angelyne’s manager by sheer force of will; Max Allen (Lukas Gage), who tried to film a documentary about her in her later years to no avail; Jeff Glasner (Alex Karpovsky), the fictionalized version of Baum who tries to dispassionately investigate her past; the list goes on. Frequently, we cut from the action to stylized, Errol Morris-esque talking head interviews explaining the ways Angelyne evaded or hurt them.
But then! “Ew, gross,” Angelyne pouts in response to a particularly salacious detail. “That did not happen.” She takes control of the narrative again, and suddenly we’re seeing things from her carefully curated perspective. She’s the kind of woman who has invented herself, her life, and her persona from whole cloth, and used her magnetism to evade any inconvenient bursts of reality that might encroach. “Angelyne” realizes this in darkly-funny detail, right down to characters from her enigmatic past blipping from the screen the moment she decides they don’t exist.