Yes, I’m still reviewing this.
If the earlier episodes of Pam & Tommy seemed to owe a huge debt to the aesthetic of Ryan Murphy, the latest episode feels more indebted to the style of Aaron Sorkin. The entire episode centered around Pam testifying at a deposition. While being asked increasingly intrusive and sexist questions about her career as a model and how she and Tommy came to make the infamous the sex tape, Pam flashed back to her past. We saw how she was discovered at a Canadian Football game and how she eventually ended up up posing for Playboy. Hugh Hefner (played by Mike Seely) showed up, wearing his stupid red robe, and puffing away on his pipe. In typical Sorkin rip-off fashion, the episode featured the attorneys asking a lot of questions and the only person of color to be seen was the unnamed court stenographer whose only line of dialogue was to briefly give Pam some encouragement.
Compared to the other episodes of Pam & Tommy, Pam In Wonderland actually worked fairly well. It helped that it largely focused on Lily James, whose performance as Pam is probably the strongest thing that this show has going for it. This is the second episode in a row not to feature the character of Reed Gauthier and the show was definitely better off without his presence and the attempts to somehow convince us that there’s any reason to portray him as being a sympathetic character. With no Reed and Tommy reduced to appearing in flashbacks, this was the first episode that was fully told from Pam’s point of view and, when the attorneys suggested that Pam was somehow to blame for what had happened because of her past as a model or just the fact that she allowed herself to be filmed in the first place, every woman watching could relate to what Pam was going through because we’ve all heard the same condescending tone and we’ve all been told that somehow, the bad things that happen to us are actually our fault. Lily James did a wonderful job of portraying Pam’s struggle to keep smiling and just get through the worst day of her life. I knew what she was going through. Again, Lily James is the best thing that this show has going for it.
And yet, I have to be honest that I still found myself wondering just what exactly the overall point of the show is. For all of the episode’s strong points, it’s still hard to see why this story needs to be told as an 8-hour miniseries as opposed to a 90-minute film on FX. The first three episodes did a good job of fitting this story into the early days of the Internet and the culture of the late 90s. But the subsequent episodes haven’t added much to that initial impression. It’s also worth noting that Pam herself has repeatedly distanced herself from the program and said, even before the show started shooting, that she didn’t want anything to do with it. One could argue that, as a show, Pam & Tommy is as intrusive and exploitive as the attorneys at the disposition. With each new episode, it become difficult to deny that this is a show that seeks to exploit the very same thing that it claims to be condemning.
One final thought on this episode and culture in general: how did people not realize that Hugh Hefner was creepy as Hell before he died? Today, of course, A&E is airing an entire TV series dedicated to exploring what an asshole Hugh Hefner actually was. But, just 11 years ago, Hefner was still being portrayed as some lovable old lothario in a sailor’s cap. NBC even tried to air a Mad Men-style show about how great life was at The Playboy Club. Remember that? Creepy old Hef even provided the narration at the start of the first episode. Last night’s episode of Pam & Tommy presented Hef as being essentially a benevolent (if manipulative) father figure. It felt oddly tone deaf, though that may indeed be how Pam herself saw the old man.
Seriously, though …. did no one ever tell him how stupid he looked in those red pajamas?