We might make tv shows about historical figures like Catherine the Great or the Borgias, but does the furore over Pamela Anderson’s infamous sex-tape with Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee really deserve an eight-episode series to analyse the story in granular detail? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is a firm yes. Director Craig Gillespie managed a similar trick with his award-winning I, Tonya, so he’s ideal for the job of telling this story from the point of view of a wronged woman, and that woman is Anderson, played here by Lily James. Arguably the most famous face and body in the world in the mid-90’s, Anderson’s bid for stardom came off the rails dramatically after being shamed as the tape gained global traction; even if Anderson herself didn’t want to have anything to do with this retelling, it’s compulsive viewing for a rubber-necking home audience.
The devil is in the detail. Seth Rogen’s production company is involved here, and Rogan plays one of the protagonists, Rand Gauthier, a carpenter who happens to be working on the couple’s house after their highly-publicised marriage. Stiffed for expenses, Gauthier steals a safe from the house and sells the contents, only to find a Hi-8 tape that shows the couple’s private cavorting on honeymoon. Sensing money to be made, Gauthier takes the tape to porn king Uncle Miltie (the hardy perennial Nick Offerman) and the two of them mastermind a sales-strategy utilising a new invention known as ‘the internet’. With sex-work experience of his own, Gauthier has a spiritual obsession with karma, but little business acumen, and soon the aspiring rip-off artists realise that they have no defence against circling vultures. And meanwhile Pamela Anderson gets wind of what’s happening online and to say she’s upset would be an understatement…
Pam & Tommy starts like a breathless tale of stoner failure, and that hook should appeal to Rogen’s fans; he makes something far more sympathetic of his loser character than most actors could. Marvel star Sebastian Stan is ideal as Tommy, although a graphic talking-penis routine in episode 2 takes things just a little too far into farcical boys-club territory. But the revelation here is James, who conjures up the look of the Baywatch star, but manages to make it pop that she was the real victim here. While her husband seems happy to dine out on the notoriety, Anderson’s physical and mental health are threatened by the public obloquy, and like Tonya Harding, the picture here is of a woman wronged by the obsequious business practices of the men around her. Anderson’s original Svengali, Hugh Hefner, is portrayed here in a negative way that chimes with recent news reports about the dehumanising treatment of women at the Playboy Mansion and beyond, and Gillespie’s show makes a salient point about how one woman’s exploitation by men barely raised zero sympathy at the time.
In 2022, few have much adherence to the cult of Pam & Tommy; they’re largely obscure figures now, lost in the mists of pop-culture’s land that time forgot. This expansive, detailed look at the providence of their fall from grace may not be for maiden aunts, but it’s wild and woolly stuff to watch, with a serious message about the way actresses and models are still handled as little more than prostitutes by a male-controlled media. Funny, shocking and without a dull moment, Pam & Tommy is highly-addictive streaming-fare, with a clear and timely message about how successful women are constantly and thoughtlessly abused by men.
Pam & Tommy, The Hulu Original Series premieres next Wednesday, February 2nd, with three episodes. New episodes stream weekly. February 2.
Thanks to Disney for access to this title.