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TELEVISION REVIEW

Pam's great love: the camera

E! is devoting eight episodes to the life of the self-hyping celeb. She craves to be seen, but must we watch?

August 01, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Television Critic

You'd think it would be easy to write a review of "Pam: Girl on the Loose," the new "documentary" about Pamela Anderson that debuts on E! Sunday night. But it's not. How do you critique a thing that, in essence, does not exist?

Long before Heidi and Lauren, long before Paris and Nicole, long before Anna Nicole, heaven rest her, there was Pam, the blond bombshell from "Baywatch." She married rocker Tommy Lee and pursued a life of relentless celebrity -- fed by scandal, divorce, sex tapes, a few bad movies and an ever-fluctuating cup size.

"Pamela Anderson as you've never seen before" teases E!, and for a brief moment the imagination staggers. Really. Will she be trying a case in front of the Supreme Court? Or sacrificing small animals to a pre-Celtic goddess? Because at this point, pretty much everything else has been covered.

And indeed, "Girl on the Loose" turns out to be Pam almost precisely as we've seen before -- an unapologetically narcissistic, self-sexualized diva who revels in her earthiness.

"Nudity? What's the big deal?" she says, jouncing topless (somewhat discreetly) and thonged to be sprayed with Pam for a photo shoot. But she's canny enough about aging and image to make certain her face is never shown in close-up or even normal studio light.

The camera work may be the best thing about "Girl on the Loose." In an attempt to capture a certain 1950s bad girl ethos, the screen is often divided into a grid, with various images playing, often while Pam narrates, filtered into an angelic blur, from her bath.

But what at first promises to be at least a bit tongue-in-cheek quickly devolves into yet another self-conscious exploration of life on Planet Tabloid Fodder where, we are told once again, Family Is All That Matters.

Pam tells us right up front that her kids will not appear on screen because her kids are the most important thing in her life. Seriously, the next celebrity who opens one of these shows with the declaration that the most important thing in life is his or her children should be sentenced to a year of service at a local Head Start. Or shot at dawn. Either way.

So we quickly learn that Pam is a real person -- Here is her mother! And her brother! Who don't look remotely famous! -- who works very hard and doesn't always get her way -- her new swimming pool still isn't finished! The makeup for a photo shoot takes so long she almost misses the last night of Elton John's show in Vegas!

In case you were unaware, Pam is also an activist. In the first of eight episodes, Pam sells off many of her belongings to ease an upcoming move and raise money for animal rights; in another, she visits Washington, D.C., on behalf of PETA.

Anderson's one saving grace has always been her refusal to pretend she's something she's not, and that provides the few moments of what passes for entertainment, and pathos, in early episodes of "Girl on the Loose."

It's hard not to laugh when she and Tommy make fun of their famous sex tape, and not to wince when Hugh Hefner greets her by groping her breasts. For a moment her smile is strained but she does not pull away; that, apparently, is what they are there for.

In spite of the go-go graphics and Pam's hard-edged sassiness, a sense of desperation fuels "Girl on the Loose." For years Anderson has embodied a certain queasy archetype -- the girl who didn't mind what people were saying about her as long as they were saying something. "Some people are afraid of being filmed," Pam tells us while posing on some minor red carpet or other; "I'm afraid of not being filmed."

Age may have prompted her to prove there is a person underneath all that hair, behind all that decolletage, but it's a crowded genre, honey, and "Girl on the Loose" seems just a little too little too late.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes .com

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'Pam: Girl on the Loose'

Where: E!

When: 10 p.m. Sunday

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