'Pam & Tommy' review: Engaging mini-series gets immeasurable strength from James and Stan
Courtesy of Hulu
It’s hard not to emphasize how categorically unrecognizable Lily James and Sebastian Star are playing Playboy model/”Baywatch” starlet Pamela Anderson and Mötle Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in “Pam & Tommy,” a new miniseries chronicling the rise and fall of the highly publicized couple. Aside from the OJ Simpson trial, the leaking of a sexually explicit video tape starring Anderson and Lee was probably the most notorious pop cultural story of the nineties. That rowdy energy and flurry dose of nostalgia is at the forefront of the miniseries which is based on a 2014 article in Rolling Stone. Spread across eight episodes that can struggle to sustain their longevity, “Pam & Tommy” tries setting the record straight on what exactly happened and brings dueling perspectives that are engaging, insightful, and necessary.
For starters, it shows the insurmountable pressure and backlash Anderson faced after the footage leaked and considering she’s a woman, it put her under a vastly different microscope than her tattooed lover. She became the punchline of late night talk shows (among them Jay Leno who is played in the show with cheap looking prosthetics by Adam Ray) and it practically derailed her movie career. Instead, she continued being a sex symbol on televisions biggest show at the time “Baywatch” where any chance to elevate her character beyond the stereotypical ditzy blonde was squashed by sleazy male producers.
How the fallout began was something of an anomaly to begin with and “Pam & Tommy” sets the stage and educates (or re-educates) the viewer on how something intimately private fell into the wrong hands. Those hands belonged to lowly, washed-up porn star-turned contract carpenter Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogan - great) who stumbled upon the tape after stealing Lee’s safe that was kept inside a home studio. Utilizing his connections in the porn industry, Rand takes the tape to a friend/producer (Nick Offerman) to try and squeeze as much cash out of the product as possible. No distributor in town wants to be part of their stolen goods scheme without the proper release forms, so the pair decide to use this crazy and new invention called the internet to sell copies through the postal service. From there, the sex tape becomes a firecracker sensation growing from word-of-mouth, underground, sensation to the mainstream within weeks.
Throughout “Pam & Tommy,” James brings a raw, sympathetic nature to Anderson who was caught in the middle of the exploitation. She wants to be more than a overly sexualized women alongside Tommy who became a viral sensation before you could even *become* a viral sensation. The show takes great lengths in exposing the misogynistic culture directed towards Anderson at a time where the media was absolutely ruthless. Same for Tommy, but in a much different way, who was never held accountable for his mishandling of the situation. The dude was a savior to frat bros everywhere.
The series handles lots of baggage and maneuvers between Gauthier’s journey for richies (and dealing with the forthcoming digitized, online porn boom) and Anderson’s headspace with ease. James and Stan are immaculate together and once you get past the transformational layers, you see two performers operating at maximum efficiency. In the 25-years since the leak, here’s hoping “Pam & Tommy” can help reshape the perspective and retool the narrative to vindicate Anderson for how terrible she was treated. Hindsight is 20/20.
PAM & TOMMY debuts on Hulu Wednesday, February 2nd.