‘Pam and Tommy’ remembers to humanise the people at the centre of the story.

by | Jan 27, 2022 | All, Reviews

We have recently come into possession of a piece of material……

The first episode of Pam & Tommy takes a risk. Only in as much as it doesn’t feature the title characters very much at all. Lily James’ amazing portrayal of the Baywatch star is given virtually no screen time in the opening episode whilst Sebastian Stan’s take on Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee gets a bit more time to shine.

The eight-part series (based in part on a 2014 Rolling Stone story) centres around the fallout of a sex tape the newly married couple made. It uses its first episode to introduce Seth Rogen’s spurned carpenter Rand Gauthier who ends up having access to the tape when he steals a safe belonging to the couple. The episode sets up Lee as the stereotypical rock star, changing his mind to the bespoke features he wants his handymen to build in the couples’ first bedroom. Fired by Lee, and out of pocket, Rand (who is a big believer in Karma) breaks into the couple’s home one night. It’s a clumsy break-in but one he gets away with. When he gets into the safe along with watches and bundles of cash he discovers a tape. This tape, which has since become the stuff of legend, was recorded by Tommy and captures them having sex.

Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen make the perfect double act.

The series looks at the repercussions of both the making of the tape and the response it had when Rand and his porn director partner in crime Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman) found a way of selling it online. It’s important to remember this was 1995 when the ‘worldwide web’ was still very much in its infancy and more of an underground thing.

The show, from Creator Robert Siegel, is careful not to make anyone here feel like a caricature or figure of fun. Even the outrageous reckless Tommy Lee has broader strokes as the series progresses. It would be easy to make Rand out to be a sleazy criminal who sees his chance to profit from his crime, but instead, the script takes time to flesh him out as someone still pining after the girl of his dreams who he met on a porn set directed by Mittie. Rand and Erica (Taylor Schilling) are actually married but haven’t been together for a while. Erica, who has moved on is still charmed by Rand and the script takes the time to flesh them out properly.

It’s when the focus is on the celebrity couple that the show really comes into its own. The second episode, I Love You, Tommy sees the pair meet for the first time. It’s a whirlwind romance that leads to an impromptu beach wedding. *This episode also features a sequence where Tommy Lee discusses his feelings for Anderson with his penis. The penis is voiced by Jason Mantzoukas. It seems like a sequence designed for television, but it comes from a passage in Lee’s own autobiography.* When they return to California they realise they don’t know anything about each other. They’re not even sure where to live. Again, the show doesn’t them as reckless but more naive lovers who were swept up in a moment of lust and excitement.

Lily James remembers to humanise Anderson.

British actress Lily James, who looks nothing like the Baywatch star, disappears in the role. Some people have been dismissive of the series because Anderson wasn’t involved in the making of the series, but any doubts they have are unfounded because the show is always sympathetic to Anderson. On their first night at home, Lee is shocked to learn of Anderson’s love of musicals. Before recording ‘that tape’ they dance around gleefully to ‘getting to know you’ from ‘The King and I.‘ In another episode, she asked who she would like to emulate in the industry. She thinks for a while and then says Jane Fonda. She admires Fonda because she doesn’t care what people think of her. She’s an actress but also a businesswoman with her workout tapes. She’s a brand. Anderson is never portrayed as the ditzy blonde she’d be made out to be by the media. Even when the pair realises the tape has been stolen it is Anderson that realises the true danger it poses. In their first argument, she tells Lee, “You’ll just be thought of as cool after this but I’ll be labelled the biggest slut in the world. It’s worse for me because I’m a woman!” Anderson was soon proved right as she and the tape quickly became fodder for the tabloids and late-night talk shows.

James, who grew up watching Baywatch and was a big fan of Pamela Anderson does a superb job as the character. As the best true stories should, it takes the story we think we know and humanizes it. There’s a particularly striking scene where Anderson rehearses a big monologue with Lee. It’s a big moment for Anderson as she’s never been given responsibility or dialogue like this before. When she arrives to shoot the scene she discovers the director (a typical chauvinist) has cut the scene. She’s visibly shaken as she’s asked to don her lifeguard swimsuit and parade up the beach. In a later scene, the same director sits at a monitor and discusses how much of a ‘wedgie’ Anderson should have. There are few moments like this throughout the series that illustrate how undervalued Anderson was in a world that used her for her looks rather than her talent. She’s all too aware of what the world expects of her, and of the benefits and drawbacks of her look. When she first meets Lee her friends try and dissuade her from being with him. They’ve seen the effect being with a ‘bad boy’ like Lee has had on her in the past. Unsurspingly, she’s unable to resist his charisma.

It’s a credit to the performance to Sebastian Stan’s performance as Lee that you can immediately see what makes him so appealing to Anderson. He might be rude and arrogant to the rest of the world but the early episodes make clear that he dotes on his new wife. When they find out they are expecting their first child Tommy Lee proudly proclaims, “I’m going to be dad, ON PURPOSE!” He’s a lovable teddy bear to Pam and although it’s instantly clear they don’t know each other well, their connection feels strong and built on more than their initial infatuation.

Sebastian Stan delves beneath the surface of the rock drummer.

There are essentially two storylines here. In one, Gauthier and Miltie work together to get the tape sold, and later on, try to avoid capture of the ruthless P.I that Pam & Tommy have hired to get the tape back. The second sees the titular couple struggle to come to terms with what the tape being out for public consumption really means.

It’s another stranger than fiction true story that you can’t believe you didn’t know more about. HULU in the US and Disney+ in the UK is releasing the first three episodes together before the rest arrive weekly. It’s a smart decision. The first focuses more primarily on Rand, the second on the party and sex-filled nights that led to the titular couple coming together and the third explores the pair more deeply. It’s the third episode where I felt the series really came into its own. It’s the episode that strips back the craziness to reveal the people behind it. It is also the episode that made me really fall for James’ portrayal as Anderson.

It’s a series that is full of light and shade. It’s comedic and crazy, but also remembers not to depict the people in the story as clowns or misguided fools. Did I need a scene with a talking penis? On reflection probably not, but it’s a rare weak moment in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable true story that I won’t soon forget.

Pam & Tommy will be available on Disney+ in the UK and on HULU from Wednesday 2nd February.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

27/01/2022

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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