Renée Zellweger and showrunner Jenny Klein gathered on Monday at the chic Whitby Hotel in New York City to fete the release of their NBC series “The Thing About Pam.”
In “The Thing About Pam,” a limited series based on the viral “Dateline” episode and true crime podcast of the same name, Zellweger plays Pam Hupp, a sadistic, yet unassuming Missouri woman who was charged with the murder of her best friend Betsy after framing Betsy’s husband. But the real Hupp looks nothing like the two-time Oscar winner. When photos of the star’s unrecognizable transformation first surfaced last year, Zellweger, who served as executive producer, met backlash for the use of a “fat suit.”
But the subject of Zellweger’s transformation — arguably the foundation of “The Thing About Pam’s” comedic rhythm — barely surfaced Monday evening.
“Is Pam a difficult character to let go? On the last day, are you ready to go your separate ways?” the screening moderator, Josh Horowitz, asked.
“Yea, I was done,” Zellweger said, laughing. “It was just itchy. It was a very itchy project.”
“Equal parts true crime, “Dateline” spoof and off-kilter character comedy, “The Thing About Pam” isn’t camp, since it’s all too aware of its own satire. What is camp, however, is the production’s decision to put an Oscar winner in 200 pounds of prosthetics to masquerade as a midwestern murdering mom.
At the screening, Klein described what it was like to see Zellweger arrive on set the first day.
“It was pretty surreal,” she said. “We hadn’t actually met in person before, so I kind of met Pam first. And it wasn’t just the physical embodiment, it was the way Pam walks, her gestures and mannerisms. To see her come to life was a little bit scary.”
To be clear, “The Thing About Pam” isn’t a morose true crime study. It’s funny. It’s slapstick and off-kilter. It’s narrated by Keith Morrison in a meta spoof of his “Dateline” episode, and it’s hokey in the way of “Fargo” or “I, Tonya.” On Monday evening, Zellweger offered her commentary on how to satirize true crime inoffensively.
“Being respectful, that was really important,” she said. “We didn’t want to forget that the center of this case was a woman who lost her life, and her family suffered consequentially.”
“But, as Jenny mentioned, the absurdity of this case is so remarkable,” Zellweger continued. “You start asking yourself, how is it possible that this could happen when there’s a pile of evidence that points away from the accused?”
“Underneath that,” she finished, “there are so many socially relevant topics to discuss. It seemed important to introduce levity, since you can’t appreciate the absurdity of this story unless you can see on the screen how ridiculous it is.”