Tuesday, March 8, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Thing About Pam' - Pam Tells the Police What Happened Before Betsy Was Murdered in 'She's a Good Friend'

NBC's The Thing About Pam - Episode 1.01 "She's a Good Friend"

Meet Pam Hupp, Betsy Faria's close friend and the last person to see her alive after dropping Betsy off at home on the night of her murder. Betsy's husband, Russ Faria, makes a distraught call to 9-1-1.

"She's a Good Friend" was written by Jessika Borsiczky & Jenny Klein and directed by Scott Winant

At times, this truly feels like an episode of Dateline that just so happens to star two-time Academy Award winner Renée Zellweger. Of course, she's made up to more closely resemble the woman at the heart of this true crime story. She's covered by prosthetics and a body suit. That's simply not something any television production should be doing in 2022. And yet, it's what is currently playing out onscreen. That means the audience has to watch Zellweger hobble around like this. Sometimes it's simply better to hire someone who captures the essence of the character instead of being an eerie lookalike. If a close resemblance was necessary, then there are more than enough actresses the casting department could have looked at. Instead, the team rallied around an acclaimed actress who was intrigued by this material. That says something about the caliber of the story being told. Something must ultimately justify Zellweger's interest. The show is fundamentally centered around her character, Pam Hupp. The narrative never actively wants the audience to believe that Russ Faria is guilty of killing his wife, Betsy. She is stabbed over 50 times. It all presents as a crime of passion. The local detectives only want to look at him as the suspect. It's the only narrative that makes sense. It plays into the statistics of the job. The spouse always has the most to gain. Russ is a supporting character in this telling. Pam is the central figure. The narration from Keith Morrison likes to play around with perspective as they both live out the moments before Betsy's death. However, the narration immediately lets the audience in on the concept of deception. It notes how every little action made could have a dramatic impact in hindsight. It calls into question how much the average person is aware of their surroundings at all times. No one knows when they are about to get caught up in a senseless murder. Everyone reacts differently. Those reactions are judged harshly too. No one believes Russ' 911 call is a genuine expression of grief. It's over acting. No one buys it. This is a small town though. It's a quiet little place in the middle of the country. That offers the impression that murders like this don't happen often. That plays into the overall ignorance of the police. They are stretched thin. They stumble when conducting this investigation. They only want to see one viable narrative. They aren't even pursuing the typical due-diligence of asking about Russ' night and seeing if he even had the time to commit the crime.

The police get their information mostly from Pam. That appears to be by design. She may not have been planning this. And yet, that truth starts to sink in the moment she gives Betsy's mother the necklace she bought in the store before the murder. It was a way to remember her heart. They could bond together over their shared grief. Pam was always controlling Betsy's life. She had to serve in that role because Betsy had cancer and needed someone to prioritize her health. Things weren't good at home. That's why her daughter moved in with her grandmother. Everything is done to suggest turmoil and uncertainty. However, stoicism lurks within Pam's presence. She barely reacts when the police call saying they want to talk with her. In fact, she was already awake waiting for that call. She perfects looking just frazzled enough to suggest being thrown out of whack by this tragic news. And then, she proceeds to tell the detectives everything that can further line up their case against Russ. She isn't a great storyteller. She is an unreliable narrator of events. She presents data that can offer a precise timeline of what happened. That too may be a carefully constructed way to back up her story. She offers that uncertainty. She provokes it in others too. She worms her way into their lives and demands to be prioritized. She loves being the center of attention. She operates that way at home. Her family isn't really a predominate focus whatsoever. Pam's life is about taking care of Betsy. She knows what's best. Betsy knows she should just go along with that too. It's not worth it to make a big deal out of anything. Pam is a good friend because of the deeds she does. However, her friends don't always appreciate her presence and what she's offering. That too seems like motivation the audience should clearly pick up on. The projection of Betsy in Pam's story is a lot different than the woman seen before her murder. Pam's story changes. She's all over the place and even builds that into her interaction with the police. She has an acceptable answer for why some events contradict others. That should make it even more valuable for the police to find the evidence to enhance the case against Russ. It would all seemingly be unraveled by a receipt he casually tosses aside in his truck. The direction calls that out. Nothing is truly left to chance. The audience is told exactly what to think from moment to moment. That plays as this story being told with all the careful consideration and mindfulness of hindsight. It knows more forces are at work. The audience should be aware of that. That approach can also take the audience out of the moment and looking for those clues. That too can create a lopsided narrative where no one comes across as a multi-dimensional character genuinely reacting to events. Instead, it's about these grand connections that will be spelled out later on in the season.