TV Recap: Pam & Tommy, “Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth”

The sh*t is really starting to hit the fan now. News of the tape has made its way across the country, including to the writer’s room at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno—remember, this is 1996 when The Tonight Show still mattered. When his writers insist there is a joke in it, Jay responds that he will only talk about it if “Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth” know what he’s talking about. Well, it seems that Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie are the only ones in America who DON’T know about the tape as it spreads like wildfire, thanks to the internet, so much so that it raises the interest of a Los Angeles Times reporter, who thinks the paper needs to cover the story, claiming it raises interesting issues of technology, celebrity, and privacy. Her editor balks, saying it’s too gossipy for the Times, but she continues to track it.

Meanwhile, our lovebirds feel the heat as the tape couldn’t come at a worse time for them, professionally. Pamela is in full-on publicity mode for her first feature film, Barb Wire, the film that she hopes will propel her to A-list stardom–the first step on her Jane Fonda trajectory. But when the tape doesn’t go away, she is forced to tell her publicist, who is furious she hadn’t heard about it until now. Tommy, for his part, is resentful of Pam’s rising star. Instead of going to a promotional event for her film, he goes to the Viper Room, where he drowns his still-lingering sorrow over the miscarriage and his not-so-hidden jealousy of his wife’s success, ending up in a bar fight, which, of course, makes headlines. Pam’s publicist warns her that Tommy is hurting her career, so she asks him to toe the line and behave, which instigates a huge fight in which Pam accuses Tommy of liking the attention the tape is bringing him.

It doesn’t get any better for Tommy when he shows up at the studio to start recording a new album with Mötley Crüe, and he finds out they’ve been bumped by indie alternative darling Third Eye Blind, who is now recording in the studio they’ve always recorded in, relegating the Crüe to a second-rate studio. This is the last straw for Tommy, who can’t handle being thought of being a has-been.

When the Times reporter finds out the tape was actually stolen, she finally convinces her editor to run the story, claiming, “This is news.”

But the real drama is still yet to unfold. Unbeknownst to Rand and Miltie, who is still MIA, their little tape would end up being the straw to stir up a decades-old rivalry between Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, who despise each other. When the tape makes its way to Guccione, played by Maxwell Caulfield, he sees an opportunity to humiliate his rival Hefner by exposing Pamela, Playboy’s most famous playmate ever and a Hef discovery, by publishing significantly unflattering stills from the video in his decidedly more risqué magazine (read: full frontal).

Pamela wants to sue to keep Guccione from publishing, but members of her camp try to convince her that suing would be the worst thing because it will only publicize the tape more. She, however, is panicked that he will print the pictures and hurt Hef (and her own burgeoning career), so she feels she has no choice. When Pam finds out she’ll be the only one getting deposed for the lawsuit, not Tommy, she realizes the fix is in. Not even Tommy casually proclaiming, “Don’t worry, babe, we’re in this together,” can take away that gnawing feeling that she will somehow be forced to fight this all by herself.

After seeing the article in the LA Times, Leno is finally convinced that it’s fodder for comedy, cracking a joke about flotation devices that even Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie will get. Maybe Tommy shouldn’t have blown off that reporter when she called, asking him to comment.

Pam & Tommy is now streaming on Hulu.

Written by
Catherine is a senior writer for We Live Entertainment. She has also written for Awards Watch, In Session Film, and Awards Radar. She is Rotten Tomatoes-approved and a proud member of The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, and the Online Association of Female Film Critics. Offline, she loves baseball, World Cup soccer and all things ‘80s.

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