REVIEW: “The Thing About Pam” – A Dateline NBC mini-series about a real-life Missouri murderer


The Thing About Pam is streaming on Hulu and Peacock

Ben Kaiser, News Editor

Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers for the “The Thing About Pam” limited series.

It was the year 2011. The year President Obama announced Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. military forces. Prince William married Kate Middleton. The popular video game “Minecraft” came out. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il died. And in Troy, Mo, Betsy Faria’s murder would spark a shocking conspiracy involving Pam Hupp.

“The Thing about Pam” is based on Pam Hupp, a Missouri woman serving life in prison for murder and believed to be behind more murder cases currently under investigation. What’s surprising is that these murders only happened in the last couple of years, possibly as far back as 2011. And for St. Charles County residents, this story is closer to home than what’s comfortable.

“The Thing about Pam” stars Renée Zellweger (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”) as Pam Hupp, Josh Duhamel (the “Transformers” films) as Joel Schwartz, Katy Mixon (CBS’s “Mike & Molly”) as Betsy Faria, Glenn Fleshler (Showtime’s “Billions”) as Russ Faria, Alice Barrett-Mitchell (“13”) as Cathy Singer, Gideon Adlon (“The Mustang”) as Mariah Day, and introducing Jeff Ryan Baker as Louis Gumpenberger. Judy Greer (FX’s “Archer”) plays Leah Askey, Lincoln County’s prosecutor, and Mac Brandt (Audience Network’s “Kingdom”) as Detective McCarrick assigned to Betsy Faria’s murder case. “Dateline” correspondent Keith Morrison provides the narration.

The NBC chronicles Hupp’s involvement from Betsy Faria’s murder to Gumpenberger’s murder, the latter being her downfall. It first covers Russ Faria’s wrongful conviction of his wife’s murder and his retrial years later which proves his innocence. After Russ is a freedman, Hupp becomes the prime suspect, due to her being the benefactor of Betsy’s life insurance. Hupp loses her public image after winning a lawsuit from Betsy’s children, who never got the money from Betsy’s life insurance.

To try to keep her own innocence, Hupp sets up disabled Louis Gumpenberger as a hitman sent by Russ, but it ultimately backfires (because Hupp wasn’t much of a CSI viewer, I guess). However, Hupp decides to take the Alford Plea, maintaining her innocence while accepting the evidence against her. This leads to Hupp being incarcerated in prison for life without parole.

Betsy Faria’s murder, Russ Faria’s trial and then retrial, and Gumpenberger’s murder are all true events that happened in Saint Charles County between 2011 and 2019. This is probably one of the craziest stories I ever heard of coming from this county. It honestly sounds like something from a crime drama in my own neck of the woods. Maybe this could be the start of shows like “CSI: The ‘Burbs” or “Law & Order: Midwest Crimes.”

For the show, both Betsy Faria’s and Shirley Neumann, Hupp’s mother, deaths happen off-screen, like in an episode of “Law and Order” or “CSI.” It never reveals the actual act, although heavy implications are on Hupp. Hupp is only shown recruiting and then killing Gumpenberger, which is appropriate since his murder was the only one she was found guilty of. There is no definite answer as to whom killed Betsy and Neumann, but Hupp is still involved and they remain a part of this psychotic scheme.

It’s even weirder to think that before 2019, you could have walked past Hupp at your nearby QuikTrip or waited in line behind her at Schnucks or Dierbergs. That’s eerie.

Renée Zellweger has been making a comeback in the last few years, but this performance was a complete surprise from her. Hupp was already a real-life TV show villain and Zellweger was able to use her as an actual TV villain. It’s perfect! But I never have seen Zellweger act like this: a manipulative, prying “Murder Karen.” She condescends down on everyone, from Lincoln’s prosecutor to her own husband.

Zellweger as Pam Hupp

Zellweger plays Hupp as that person you’d love to hate. You’re ready to hate on her every time she shows up, gritting your teeth with every fake smile she gives. She reminds me of Dolores Umbridge from the “Harry Potter” series. Both Umbridge and Zellweger’s Hupp can make you angry just standing there with a fake patronizing smile while thinking those evil thoughts inside their head. If Zellweger keeps this up, she could make a lot of money playing villains in future movies and shows.

Zellweger wears a ‘fat suit’ and facial prosthetics for her Hupp role. Complete that with a ‘Chill Chugz” giant fountain drink (which I think is a knockoff of ‘Big Gulp’), and Zellweger disappears into this role.

Dateline was behind this series, which seems fair since Hupp herself posed as a Dateline correspondent to lure in a victim. It’s just my opinion, but it felt like Dateline enjoyed holding Hupp up as this hateful person, and showing her off for the world to see. It’s a bit of a savage move, but Hupp is a terrible person, so I have no problem with that.

An odd approach for the show was it was dark humor elements. In the first episode, Hupp is introduced almost like she was in a sitcom. It’s a weird start for a true crime story. In another episode, Hupp is fantasizing about going to court to testify against Russ Faria and she visualizes the courtroom, including the judge, jury, and witnesses, as versions of herself. It’s just a surreal moment when this is supposed to be about real-life murders and we’re getting a campy moment of Hupp clones.

Another thing is how the prosecution and investigation into Russ Faria were so cartoonish, incompetent, and deceitful. It’s even worse when you discover that the real-life events were just as terrible. Like, seriously, the detective in charge of the Faria murder case was jumping to conclusions like he was in a bad cop show; the idiot even forgot to read Russ his Miranda rights. I’m no cop, but wouldn’t you think that would be covered in the first week of being a cop?

The prosecution had a real shocking and damning cliffhanger for the second episode. Leah Askew, Lincoln’s prosecution assigned to the Russ Faria trial, is seen in a bar sharing drinks with the judge who would be overseeing the trial along with one of the jurors. Like holy crap, are you serious? Was this really something that happened in real life or just dramatization for the show? Because both are just as effective.

This show is the kind of thing that I would like to know more about what was real and what was just for the show. After the final episode of “The Thing about Pam,” Dateline NBC released a special called “The REAL Thing about Pam” with Keith Morrison. I haven’t had time to watch it yet, but I hope it clears the air. Because seriously, some of the stuff that happens was enough to get me mad if it was real.

I’m not gonna lie, “The Thing about Pam” is addicting. It pulls at the right strings to trigger emotions, and like that little turd Joffrey from “Game of Thrones,” you can’t wait to see Hupp go down. While it does a great job of building up hate for Hupp, I wish it showed more. I think the problem is that everything happened within the last nine years and not everything has concluded yet. I guess, technically, anything more would have been pure fantasy and could be liable for defamation. I bet Dateline will be back for more of Hupp should more evidence turn up which I feel will happen. That’s just… ‘the thing about Pam.’

“The Thing about Pam” aired on NBC and is streaming on Peacock and Hulu.

Zellweger, Greer, Duhamel, Mixon, and Fleshler