The most remarkable thing about Stacked, Fox's new Wednesday night sitcom, is how completely unremarkable it is. Its concept is enough to get any irony-lover salivating: through a series of improbable events, a big-boobed, hard-livin' Pamela Anderson gets hired at a bookstore run by two brothers-one an uptight, humourless snob, the other a horny, wisecracking oaf. Rounded out by Marissa Jaret Winokur's sassy coffee-counter girl and Christopher Lloyd's (wait for it) mad professor, Stacked seemed guaranteed to be so bad it'd be good. Or so bad it'd be bad. Or so bad it'd be vaguely genius. Or something.
ILLUSTRATION BY JESSICA HARTRICK
But it's not any of that. Stacked is just another ho-hum Fox comedy. Solidly meh. It's not without traces of potential, and it's just weird that a show starring Pam Anderson might end up being good without having to be qualified by "so bad it's..."
Surprisingly, Fox doesn't seem to have skimped on the writers. The dialogue is snappy, if slightly predictable, and the plot arcs aren't entirely obvious. The attempts at smarty-pants book jokes are sort of stuck at grade-eleven level ("Heart of Dorkness: The Story of You"), but it's nice that someone made the effort. Only two episodes in, the relationships between all the non-Pam characters have been firmly established. This leaves the writers to decide whether the chorus will harden into hackneyed background noise that lobs softballs to the star or grow into interesting, offbeat characters. The ensemble acting is pretty tight, and a guest appearance in the second episode by Tony Hale (Arrested Development's Buster) bodes well. Clearly, the creators of Stacked are making an honest effort to turn in a solid product. It ain't HBO, but it's not UPN, either.
Without Pamela Anderson, Stacked would be an inoffensive way to spend the thirty minutes before American Idol comes on (presuming that you watch American Idol and also that you don't have a TiVo-in either case, I feel sorry for you). Her presence onscreen, however, makes the show almost hypnotic. Much has been made of what makes Pammie so interesting to watch (aside from the boobs). Whatever your personal reason, the fact remains that there is something just fascinating about her. She's got Imminent Death Syndrome or something-she's untalented and yet you find yourself rooting for her, both when in character and out. For example, at the end of the second episode, she manages to trick Brent (Tony Hale playing an irritating, over-educated, potential employee) into bad-mouthing Gavin's (the boss) poorly selling book. In doing so, she wins her job back, and you actually feel a little thrill of triumph despite the fact that without Anderson there would be no show, and so she's obviously going to be hired.
Maybe we're on her side simply because we can't separate Pam's character from her public persona. In Stacked, she's playing herself; details like being unable to break up with a tattooed, bad-boy rocker take her character from easy-to-play token to kind-of-funny joke. She also has that effortless, bimbo-but-not-stupid quality that draws people to her. With a Winnie the Pooh-like ease, she manages to come out ahead of her hyperintellectual boss, supplying idiotic yet accurate answers to his spluttering protests from a self-help book. And from the very moment she walks in, all the bookstore employees are transfixed by her and eager to help her in some way. True, this happens because it's her show and that's how TV works, but more than other stars that drive sitcoms, Pamela Anderson is believable as the sun around which the imaginary universe revolves.
Pamela Anderson brings the excitement of her drunken, busty drama to the poor, pathetic losers employed at the bookstore. And it was only on second watching that I noticed how the writers go out of their way to make sure you realize what losers they really are.
Her draw is not just her notoriety, either. Christopher Lloyd has at least as much star power as Anderson, and even though his acting skills are far superior and he makes much more of the funny morsels he's given, it's not Lloyd you're looking at. Pamela Anderson brings the excitement of her drunken, busty drama to the poor, pathetic losers employed at the bookstore. And it was only on second watching that I noticed how the writers go out of their way to make sure you realize what losers they really are. Katrina (Winkour) mentions she went to the prom with her brother. Gavin and Stuart, the fraternal owners of the store, lament sitting at the nerd table in high school. Gavin's low book sales are the butt of numerous jokes. Pam comes off as the nice popular girl-the only cheerleader you didn't fear having as a lab partner-and that's compelling. It's not acting, because let me reiterate that Pamela Anderson can't act. It's just her, and it's enough to carry the show.
Sure, Stacked has problems. There are these annoying interstitial "chapters" with line drawings of each scene that morph into real people when the action starts (à la Blossom). There's a laugh track and heavy product placement and shitty jokes and those annoying pauses in between every line that sitcom actors always mistake for normal speech. But despite all that, I think Stacked has the potential to be more than the novelty act that TV critics lined up to make fun of the second they saw the promotional materials. If Stacked can find a way to get beyond its overly clever conceit, it may, strangely, be a good show.
What is this world coming to?
Audrey Ference is a writer living in Brooklyn with a cat and a TV, among other things. She kind of doesn't get what the big deal is about the OC. No offence.