A sitcom starring Pamela Anderson as a bookstore employee in 2005? We’re already laughing. Sam Brooks writes about the dusty two-season wonder that was Stacked.
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re an American television network in 2005. Friends has just ended its ten year run, and that format of sitcom (friends do problematic things with guest stars) hasn’t been able to be recreated in any meaningful way. You need a surefire hit. You look to Seinfeld, maybe. But that’s equally difficult to recreate – so very few people have the winning, racist charm of Michael Richards. You look back further, to Cheers.
Something about it sticks. It was cheap – all you needed was one easily recognisable set. It was successful – Cheers led into Frasier, which led into Kelsey Grammar having five wives. It was even beloved, the hardest thing for a show to be. But you can’t just do Cheers again, especially because now Woody Harrelson is a gruff movie star and more famous for getting stoned than he ever was for his show about Cheers. So you, in your endless wisdom, decide to do the opposite of Cheers. Whereas Cheers was about a smart person (Sam, and to a degree, Diane) surrounded by dumb people, instead you will surround a dumb person with smart people.
But who will you get to anchor your series? Who has the star-power and the reliable pull that you need in a sitcom? You need someone who will get people from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea, to tune in and watch week after week. Who is that person in 2005? Who has that charisma? Who has the skill? Who has the pull? Who has the range?
Pamela Anderson, ladies and gentlemen. The star of Baywatch, Hasselhoff notwithstanding. The star of Barb Wire, quality notwithstanding. Someone who was, arguably, the most famous woman on the planet at one stage. The woman who, in 2005, some network executive was hoping would be able to recreate the success of Cheers, or at the very least, Frasier, in a show called Stacked.
You see, the title Stacked is a clever reference to Pamela Anderson’s top-front body quadrant. It also refers to the setting of the show: a family-run bookstore. Do you think they came up with the title in reference to Pamela Anderson’s aforementioned quadrant first and then came up with the setting? The answer is lost to time. (Of course they did.)
This is the level of comedy that you can expect from Stacked, most of which is available on YouTube. It’s not a good show, but it’s an insight into a very 2005 headspace, and it’s worth a brief journey.
The first surprise, for me, is that Pamela Anderson is a surprisingly decent anchor for the show. She’s no Madeleine Kahn, she’s no Gilda Radner, but the show relies on constant – constant – jokes at her expense, and Anderson knows enough about that specific expense to make sure she’s in on the joke. There was always a kind of Marilyn Monroe appeal to Anderson, even way back on Baywatch, but she was a Marilyn Monroe who knew the percentage of the alcohol she was drinking. She cashed in on the lowest common denominator of the dumb blonde, but she bought a house or two off of that cash.
She wasn’t going to be winning any Emmys anytime soon, but Anderson was a more than capable centre to Stacked. Whether she’s setting up an easy punchline, or spiking an even easier one, there’s a magnetism to her that you imagine is inherent to Anderson in real life. It’s probably what made her stand out in the huge cast of Baywatch, and what she owes her enduring kind-of celebritydom to now. The woman’s been on four different iterations of Dancing with the Stars across the world, you guys.
The rest of Stacked was a shockingly simple concept, even by 2005 standards. Skylar, for that is our protagonist’s name, is dumb and hot; everybody else is smart and less hot. The jokes are the easiest lobs you could ever hope to catch, the kind of jokes that you chuckle at if you manage to overhear them while you’re cooking your dinner.
There was literally one set, the family-run bookstore. All the other characters worked in the book store – the disgruntled and faux-academic owner (Elon Gold), the in-love-with-Pamela-Anderson clerk (Birian Scolaro) and the frazzled-but-oversexed barista (the hugely over-qualified Broadway star Marissa Jaret Winokur) – except for a regular customer played by Christopher Lloyd. Yes, the guy from Back to the Future.
I hope he and Pamela Anderson have regular catch-ups, because Stacked was not long for the world. You see, 2005 was right about the time when people were getting bored of the three-camera sitcom, and moving on to more sophisticated single camera comedies: your Scrubs, your The Offices, your 30 Rocks. While the biggest comedies on television were still three-camera shows, like Two and a Half Men, the critical conversation had shifted to these weirder, more experimental single-cameras.
Not that Stacked was ever aiming to be at the centre of any kind of critical conversation. Take the second episode of the second season. Skylar is visited by her best friend from high school, Eve. She’s unrecognisable because she’s had ‘thirty grand’s worth of plastic surgery’, and she’s recently engaged to a man much older than her. Oh, also, she’s played by noted anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy, of Jenny McCarthy Body Count infamy. The entirety of the episode revolves around age jokes, dumb blonde jokes, and gold digger jokes that were dated when even Christopher Lloyd was barely a twinkle in his father’s eye.
independent journalism happen!Find Out More
The world had moved on from what Stacked wanted to give it. It wanted to give people a simple sitcom with jokes that even a 12 year old could laugh at. It wanted to give audiences a chance to see Pamela Anderson onscreen for 22 minutes a week, not including ad breaks. It wanted to make a show out of a terrible double-entendre, and god knows, it wasn’t the first and wasn’t the last. (Did you know that Transparent is a pun? No? Do you hate yourself for not realising it until now?)
Watching it now, I can’t say that I wish Stacked had four seasons and a movie. I can say that I wish Marissa Jaret Winokur had a better post-Tony Award vehicle than this. I can say that I would love to hear what Steven Levitan, creator of this show and later the multiple Emmy Award-winning show Modern Family, thinks of this now. I can say that I’ve watched five episodes of it on YouTube, and had more than a few chuckles.
But mostly, I can say that it makes me wish that Pamela Anderson had another chance at being a sitcom star, or at least a special guest star. I won’t say we owe her a lot, because I think Anderson has made the most of her incredibly specific claim to celebrity, but I’d rather see her on my television than Jenny McCarthy.
Which is the best praise I can give Stacked: It’s a lot better than Jenny McCarthy.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.