The last time we saw Renée Zellweger on TV was in the tawdry but enjoyable Netflix thriller What/If. She played a superrich woman, one so ruthless and conniving she could demand to spend the night with the hunky husband of a young woman who desperately needs some of her cash. Naturally, the younger woman sets out to destroy the villain and one hot mess of trouble ensues. (It’s still on Netflix, if perverse melodrama is your thing.) Zellweger played the role with lip-smacking gusto.
The Thing About Pam (starts Tuesday, NBC, Global, 9 p.m.) stars Zellweger as another monster and she brings an equal amount of vinegary exuberance to the work. But instead of playing a fantasy figure of cold depravity, she’s playing a real person. That’s Pamela Hupp, whom true-crime fans will know about. The subject of numerous Dateline shows and a podcast, Hupp is serving life in prison for multiple convictions. The engine of this bizarre but oddly compelling six-part series is her possible involvement in the murder of one Betsy Faria.
We are deposited in the community of Troy, Missouri. Pam Hupp is going about her business, with a giant cup of soda pop in her hand. Zellweger, aided by prosthetics and got up in large winter coats, is all fake sincerity as Pam. She practically winks at the camera. And you know this production is drenched in waspish camp when you suddenly hear Keith Morrison intone about the story at regular intervals, just as he does on Dateline.
A key element of this strange satire is its picture of small-town life. Troy is presented as a place where the centre of action is the mall and people consume food and drink from gas stations with delight. Anyway, Pam is being real friendly with her pal Betsy (Katy Mixon), who is getting chemo treatment for an aggressive cancer. She offers to drive Betsy home after a treatment, as friends do. Besides, Betsy’s husband Russ (Glenn Fleshler) is doing his usual Tuesday evening thing of playing video games with his buddies and smoking a little weed. Russ returns home and finds Betsy dead, covered in blood. He calls 911 in a state of shock.
What happens next is rather like something out of a Coen brothers movie, one of those anchored in sinister whimsy, as the local cops stumble all over the case, even forgetting to read Russ his rights. Clearly out of his mind in shock and grief, he cannot account for his movements with accuracy. The cops see an open-and-shut case. In part that’s because Pam, in talking to the police, portrays Russ as a guy with a bad temper and a lousy husband to her friend who has cancer. A newly promoted cop is asked by a colleague, “How did you like your first murder?” And the detective answers, “Thought it would be harder to solve.”
Russ is being set up. Anyone familiar with the case will know he served years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. And it’s the reality behind the drama series (it arrives weekly, you can’t binge it) that makes it unsettling but mischievous viewing. It absolutely wallows in the beats and tropes of true-crime stories while sending itself up. And Zellweger is phenomenal. There’s a scene in the early going where Pam flops down on a bean-bag chair, still in her overcoat and sucking in that giant soda, and people stare at her. It’s weird behaviour, but in the context, acceptable. That’s what Zellweger grasps and emanates – the plausibility of this monstrous murderer.
Letterkenny: International Women’s Day (streams Crave from Tuesday) is a special one-off to allow the women characters to celebrate the event it says it’s celebrating. That means they participate in the town’s first “anti-beauty pageant.” Specifically, they compete for the prizes of “Filthiest Mouth” and “Tackiest Dress.” It is MC’d by the legendary siren Bonnie McMurray (Kamilla Kowal), who manages to keep it straight while the most unprintable examples of gross behaviour are proudly declared.
In another part of town, the guys gather for a lecture about women, given by the visiting Professor Tricia (Nazneen Contractor). She asks them to name women they admire and explain why. Things proceed as expected. Roald (Evan Stern) makes an excellent case for Celine Dion. Someone else cites Christine Sinclair. McMurray (Dan Petronijevic) starts talking filth, and is told to stop. This is intercut with the women being even filthier. Written by Olivia Stadler, Allie Pearse and Jared Keeso, it’s the most bonkers but brilliant celebration of the day.
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