Pam & Tommy is the 8-episode mini-series telling the true story behind the release of the infamous sex tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee in the 90s, now streaming in the UK on Disney+. While the story itself is genuinely interesting, after watching the full 8-episode run I’m not convinced that we really need such a long and drawn out telling of a story that could have been told in less than a couple of hours.
Produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the series stars Lily James and Sebastian Stan as the eponymous Pam & Tommy. Instead of opening directly on the famous twosome, the first episode focuses on Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen), a carpenter working on a new bedroom in Pam and Tommy’s home. After having to deal with the ever-changing whims of the volatile, egotistical Tommy, Rand forks out money in advance for Tommy’s project and after challenging Tommy on this, is fired from the job and ejected from the property without his tools or the money he’s due.
After trying a number of ways to get both his money and his tools, Rand resorts to desperate measures and trespasses onto Pam & Tommy’s property in the middle of the night and steals a large safe kept in their garage. As well as containing a number of valuables to sell, Rand also discovers a home videotape and is shocked to see the footage it holds. With a history in the porn industry thanks to his ex-wife Erica (Taylor Schilling), Rand gets in touch with an old contact Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman) to help him distribute the tape. After failing to gain larger distribution due to a lack of consent, Rand and Miltie obtain funding from a local gangster to distribute copies of the tape themselves.
Meanwhile, we also see the full story behind the Pam and Tommy romance, from their initial meeting in a club where Pam initially swears off bad boys for life, to their tumultuous marriage and the development of both of their careers. Eventually, the release of the tape and its subsequent bootleg copies and internet distribution is brought to Pam and Tommy’s attention, and they do their best to prevent it from being distributed further. And while battling against the likes of Rand, Penthouse and an internet porn distributor, Pam and Tommy must also deal with the impact this tape has on their marriage and on their careers.
Pam & Tommy starts off very slowly, with the opening episode featuring very little in the way of Pam or Tommy, and I feel like this drawn-out, slow pace pretty much sets the scene for the entire series. They’ve taken a story that could have been told in a couple of hours and dragged it out over nearly 6 hours, and it shows. It isn’t a dull story, far from it. It’s actually incredibly interesting and raises a number of very pertinent questions around consent, technology and celebrities. The problem is that it gives a lot of unnecessary filler and backstory and is so long-winded that it almost becomes quite tiresome. It also tries to make an interesting story into something sensational, dramatic and serious – which it may be in some respects, but not in the way this tries to make out, like it’s another Spotlight or The Post.
Fortunately, what lifts this is the incredible performances from both Stan and James. Stan could probably have done with a few more prosthetics to make him look a little more like Tommy, but he plays the character very well. The star of the show though is Lily James, who not only looks virtually unrecognisable as Pam (thanks to lots of fake body parts, prosthetics and fake tan), she has completely embodied Pamela as a character and is entirely perfect in every way.
Despite its flaws, I found myself wanting to watch the next episode even though I wasn’t entirely sure why. Part of this could be down to the great soundtrack or the performances, or just the sheer tabloid sensationalism, cringeworthy-ness of it all. I can’t review this without mention of the giant talking penis scene, which is apparently pulled directly from Tommy Lee’s own memoir and is crazy, hilarious and cringey in equal parts. This however does raise a worrying question, and that is around exactly what sources this series draws its information and truths from. Anderson herself did not take part in the making of this series, and for a drama based around consent, her lack of consent for this is incredibly worrying and unfortunate.
Pam & Tommy features some fantastic, career-defining performances, especially from Lily James and is an interesting, crazy story. However, it suffers from being too drawn out and overly extravagant, and could easily have been condensed down to something more agreeable.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!