Why 'The Thing About Pam' Is A Bona Fide True Crime Knockout

The Thing About Pam Renee Zellweger Pam Hupp NBC
Skip Bolen / NBC

“The Thing About Pam” may be the best TV show that network television has produced in recent memory. It is a dramatization of the true crime podcast of the same name, which chronicles the mind-blowing story of Pamela “Pam” Hupp, the murder of her so-called “best friend” Betsy Faria, and the prosecution of Betsy’s later-exonerated husband, Russell Faria.

For years, “Dateline” followed the story unfolding as Betsy Faria’s murder rocked Missouri. There were strange goings-on, and the intrepid Keith Morrison dug into it regularly. Two days after Christmas in 2011, Betsy Faria would be found by her frantic husband, Russell. “The Thing About Pam” shows authorities zeroing in on “the husband” while taking everything Betsy’s supposed best friend, Pam Hupp, has to say as gospel.

If you think you know where this is all going, think again. “The Thing About Pam” dials into the mood of such a lurid case by remaining focused on Pam and how the local jurisdiction rallied against Russell Faria. Sadly, “Dateline” has many such stories to pull from, and if “The Thing About Pam” is as successful as it deserves to be, others would benefit from this sort of spotlight.

There is nothing easy about pulling a TV show like this off, as it needs to wear so many hats. “The Thing About Pam” settles for a tone akin to “To Die For” meets “Gone Girl” with far greater results than either. NBC’s effort easily outmaneuvers “Dirty John” and Netflix’s recent hit “Inventing Anna,” which hits pacing problems early in its limited run.

Perhaps, it is that “The Thing About Pam” has so much to draw from that it remains shocking to watch even if you know the real-life facts in which it is rooted. Those who did not watch it all happen on “Dateline” may find it tough to take as true.

Unfortunately, it is all too true, and it remains a reminder of so many issues that the true crime community needs to caution itself from pursuing. The first of which is rushing to judgment. Thankfully, “Dateline” was around to do outstanding work that helped keep national attention on a tumultuous legal battle that saw justice finally prevail. 

I often wonder what would have happened if network TV’s best series did not get involved and shudder at the thought. The truth surrounding “The Thing About Pam” might have never fully emerged. Among the many things that the limited series highlights are the importance of “Dateline” and its fellow news magazines.

On the acting front, the brilliant Renée Zellweger takes on the role of Pam Hupp with calculating measure and the zeal of a Cheshire cat. For those who have followed this stranger than fiction true crime tragedy since the beginning on “Dateline,” “The Thing About Pam” feels like a peek behind the curtain. Albeit, with some help from the one and only narration of “Dateline” superstar, Keith Morrison.

The iconic journalist remains off-screen as his velvety voice narrates and highlights key moments as they unfold. On-screen, it is clear that Renée Zellweger has carefully studied every nuance of the real Pam Hupp. The dissection of Zellweger’s characterization is methodical, sharp, and cutting.

For those who sat through every frustrating update that still witnessed Russell Faria remaining behind bars for the brutal murder of his wife, Betsy, “The Thing About Pam” spends the first two episodes swiftly moving through that dark period. Feria’s feverish attorney (a scene-stealing Josh Duhamel) works to free his client, and TV makes it feel a little too fast. Something has to take a hit when you only have six episodes to tell the story.

Enough cannot be said for the casting of this series. It could have gone so wrong. Instead, “The Thing About Pam” nails it with show-stopping turns from its spectacularly assembled ensemble. Renée Zellweger and Judy Greer eat the screen alive, while Josh Duhamel gives the best turn of his career as Russell Faria’s determined attorney. When you have followed this case so closely, you know how much this cast hits the ball, and let me tell you, it is a grand slam.

Peacock’s “Joe vs. Carole” demonstrates the importance of casting and finding a proper narrative tonality. Some true crime stories are best left told in documentary form, while others can withstand a dramatic interpretation. Will it cause those who avoid true crime docs to reconsider the topsy turvy world of American justice? One can hope dramatizations like “The Thing About Pam” lead them to ask some tough questions.

New episodes of “The Thing About Pam” air Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC. If you miss an episode or want to catch up, you can stream the miniseries on Peacock, and while you are there, you can watch the enchanting romantic comedy “Marry Me” starring Jennifer Lopez.

[Note: NBC Universal made four of the series’ six episodes available to the press for screening.]