“Pamela in Wonderland” travels back in time from 1996 to the mid-’80s to reveal how a cheerful and gorgeous, though naive, waitress from Nowheresville, British Columbia, wound up in the cynical crosshairs of Tinseltown. The episode is brief — just 30 minutes — yet it’s still long enough, given that the version of the story it recounts is so simple that it never avoids cliché. Pam, a small-town girl, is just hanging out with her dead-end boyfriend at a football game when she captures the attention of a guy whose job it is to identify girls who can catch an eye, a marketing VP at Labatt Brewing Company. Pam phones the rep from the safety of the old-timey cafe where she works to avoid her jealous boyfriend’s rage. She’s a “Blue Zone Girl” before you realize it, with her advertising poster hanging in the beds of pubescent guys across Western Canada.
Her Labatt job isn’t a one-time thing; it completely transforms her life. Would Pamela have become Casey Jean “C.J.” Parker, one of the longest-serving lifeguards in the history of Los Angeles County, if she’d been seated in a different area of the stadium or if she’d been too preoccupied to blow out her feathered bangs? Pam cheerfully receives a modeling request from Playboy based on her Labatt poster. Tommy isn’t the only man in her life to have violent outbursts, as the aforementioned dead-end boyfriend whips his Game Boy at her in disgust. Pamela, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to say goodbye to a man who stood in her way once upon a time. She dumps her boyfriend and travels with her mother to Hugh Hefner’s storied house.
That’s not to suggest Pam doesn’t have reservations about posing naked. She becomes shy and even hesitant about the session when her hair, makeup, and clothes are finalized. The Playboy photographer successfully puts her at ease (this isn’t the first time he’s enticed a beautiful woman to the boudoir set), and she’s quickly removing her blouse at his suggestion. It will be her brassiere later. Hugh, dressed in his distinctive burgundy smoking jacket, invites Pamela to enjoy a drink after they wrap. He tells her she’s one in a million, then offers her some unsolicited slash self-serving advice: “Distinguish your price from your worth.” If you do that, you can be any version of yourself you want.”
Pam wonders aloud to her mother later that night, daydreaming about the future, whether she should get a boob job so she can look more like the females she met at the mansion. Her mother is on board as well. Pamela’s amazing life is now complete. Perhaps she had a happy life in Ladysmith, British Columbia. I’m not sure. We seldom ever hear about it. The underlying assumption in these memories appears to be that anyone would swap their small-town life for a chance at stardom; that you’d have to be a true bumpkin not to answer the phone when Hugh Hefner calls.
Pam’s present-day nightmare: her deposition in the Lees’ lawsuit against Penthouse is intercut with these glimpses of Pam’s impoverished beginnings. The lawyers for Bob Guccione are ruthless and callous. Their inquiries are nasty and humiliating. They aren’t here to learn about the sex tape in any way. They’ve come to smear Pam’s reputation in public, to show that she’s unworthy of privacy or, worse, deserving of what’s happening to her right now. Pam is asked how old she was when she first showed her genitals in public and if she has ever worked as a prostitute by a lawyer. Pam’s inept lawyer raises objections to practically every inquiry, but this isn’t a courtroom, and there’s no judge to protect her from the abuse and humiliation.
Pam looks remarkably stylish in a baby-blue miniskirt suit with her blonde hair flowing down in lovely tendrils. When Bob’s lawyers propose she leaked the sex tape so that Bob could publish the photographs without jeopardizing her friendship with Hugh, she calmly asks why she would do such a thing. Pam is certain that she is an equal player in her talks when Bob’s lawyers imply Hugh has been underpaying her for years. The lawyer’s most base and illogical argument are that Pamela must have made the tape for money — however nefariously she obtained that money — since pornography is Pamela Anderson’s business.
Pam ultimately breaks when she is forced to see the sex tape in front of a room full of (male) lawyers. Her voice cracks as she tries to make eye contact. She can’t catch her breath as Bob’s lawyer asks if she considered how truck drivers may look in on them when she gave her husband road head. It’s unpleasant to see him repeatedly question Pam if the person she’s seeing is, in fact, herself, at different and more intrusive points in the tape. It’s not as if either party is disputing it! The questions pile up: Did anyone notice you filming while having sex on the boat? Is it possible that someone may notice you? “Did you and your husband find that exciting?” This deposition isn’t about obtaining information; it’s about breaking Pam’s will. It’s also a success.
Pam is beautifully lit throughout the program, as we follow her from Ladysmith to the Playboy Mansion, from stargazing with Tommy on their road trip to the sorrowful conference room where she is deposed. Even when she takes a break to puke in the restroom, the show allows her to do so gracefully. It’s the worst depo she’s ever seen, according to the court reporter. Pam is a victim, yet she wears a halo of bleach-blonde curls that gives her the air of sainthood. It irritates me. Pam is hardly a full character, even in a series attempting to recount the sex-tape story in a way that corrects how she was used in the 1990s: She’s a neighbor’s daughter, a pinup, a slut, and a wife. Pamela is a backlit representation of the way we used to treat women in “Alice in Wonderland.” We never get answers to the most fundamental questions, such as why Pam wanted to leave home in the first place. Is it true that she has always wanted to be famous? What about a model? Where the hell is her mother now when she most needs her? What happened to all of her close girlfriends before meeting Tommy?
Pam informs her lawyer that she will not be returning for round two of the depo at the conclusion of a long day. She suspects she’s pregnant while taking a toilet break. She’s taken on the role of a protective mother. Yes, another archetype, but this time I’m rooting for her. It helps Pamela rediscover the toughness she had before she became famous when she was evading flying Game Boys; before men were paid to persuade her to take off her top, stunning; before other men were paid to shame her for doing so. The courage to say no and walk out of the room for good.