“We’re in this together,” Tommy tells Pam as she processes the news that she alone will be deposed by the Penthouse legal team. Tommy has made other versions of this proclamation before, and they never seem to land the way he thinks they will. If anything, the hollowness of the sentiment pisses Pamela off. Tommy couldn’t bear half the burden of their stolen and recirculated sex tape even if he wanted to. It’s her glimmering star that’s at risk of dying, her reinvention — from Playboy centerfold to leading lady — that the video will ultimately damn. So what’s a supportive husband to say instead? “I wish this was happening to me” is a less grating form of commiseration, but this episode, which depicts Tommy’s ugly reckoning with his own dwindling fame, leaves me doubtful that it’s true. Would Tommy really give up those millions of sold records he’s always hollering about to save Pam’s career? Because those are the stakes by the end of the episode.
When “Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth” begins, though, the sex tape is a relatively small-time affair. It’s for sale on Rand’s site and a couple of others, but the circle of people tuned in is tight. Jay Leno won’t even do the terrible Pam jokes his writers feed him because flyover country doesn’t know about the tape’s existence — a quaint pre-internet benchmark. It’s almost endearing to see the “news” threshold set so high, first by a late-night host and again by the L.A. Times. Reporter Alicia Krentz pitches the story to her editor, who fails to see what value a tawdry home video could hold for his highbrow readership.
But Pamela Anderson Lee, the actress? She is big news. The road from lad mags to women’s monthlies is not well paved, but Gail lands the Barb Wire star on the cover of Glamour. Tonight, she has got an Entertainment Weekly event. Privately, Pam is mourning her miscarriage, but unlike Tommy, work offers a glitzy distraction. Oh, poor, sad, misguided Tommy. He attempts to drown his sorrows at the Viper Room, where they multiply instead. The music playing — Sleater Kinney — makes him feel left behind; he bristles at going unrecognized. In the bathroom, Tommy decks a guy who praises the sex tape as his best work since “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and not because a perfect stranger had the audacity to admit he had seen it. Tommy’s outraged that the dude slighted his more recent albums.
The sex tape hasn’t made the tabloids yet, but Tommy’s dust-up does. “Everything he does reflects on you,” Gail tells Pam, but it’s not Pam who needs the lesson. She and Tommy fight about it. Of course they do. Any couple would fight under this much stress and suspense. Pam blames Tommy for not “handling” the sex-tape situation, which is an unfair ask. Then she accuses him of having wanted it to happen on some subconscious level. This is Tommy’s last gasp in the limelight and he knows it. Mötley Crüe are out; Third Eye Blind, who seem like dickheads, are in.
And then things get much, much worse. Penthouse founder Bob Guccione gets his grubby hands on the tape, and the thing you need to know about Bob Guccione is that he haaaates Hugh Hefner. Tommy suspects he’ll publish stills from the video just to get under Hugh’s skin. In fact, it’s Tommy’s idea to sue Bob on the basis of his own hunch. Pam, though, is reluctant to poke the bear. They don’t know what Bob’s plans are, but he’s an outspoken defender of his right to free speech and an all-purpose contrarian. Plus a lawsuit filed by Pamela Anderson against Playboy’s biggest rival will court the very attention they’re hoping to avoid.
It’s an open question, I suppose, whether Pam and Tommy’s sex tape ever had a meaningful chance of dying out on its own. From my 2022 vantage, it’s hard to believe. On the other hand, Rand and Miltie are already on the run. Remember what the loanshark Butchie Peraino told them from the beginning? No one gets rich off a celebrity sex tape. Until Butchie said so, I was completely unaware that Rob Lowe even had a sex tape, and that’s exactly the kind of useless trivia I consider my wheelhouse.
We’ll never know, of course, because Pam’s objections to the lawsuit are overruled by Tommy and his roomful of lawyers, and Bob responds exactly as Pam anticipated he would. He fights back loudly with lawyers of his own. He announces via a revelrous press release that Penthouse is running naked photos of Hugh’s best girl. Alicia convinces her prudish, old-fashioned editor that a porn rivalry playing out in the U.S. courts is, in fact, newsworthy. The L.A. Times runs a story below the fold on the front page of the entertainment section.
Somehow, Tommy still doesn’t get it! He thinks the story’s containable, but it’s deeply not. Hef sees it; the Baywatch producers see it. Even Nikki Sixx reads the entertainment section. Other papers, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, write second-day stories. Glamour pulls Pam’s cover. Worse yet, the lawsuit convinces Leno it’s okay to take aim. He tells some real zingers, like how Pam’s surgically augmented breasts are “flotation devices” and how she doesn’t wear that many clothes on Baywatch anyway, so what’s the difference.
The only person who really seems to be looking out for Pam is Gail, who tells her she needs to learn how to say no. Being a woman in Hollywood means standing up to roomfuls of men and saying no. Pam is listening. When a PA tries to manhandle her into position on set, she shakes him off. It’s too little, way too late, but it’s not nothing. The end of last week’s episode saw Tommy scooping Pam into his arms in a promise of care and protection. This week, with even more bad news weighing on her, Pamela walks out of view on her own two feet.