Pam & Tommy: High In Glamour, Not Entirely Guilt-Free

Mar 17, 2022

Pam, Tommy and Gauthier images superimposed on a stack of video tapes

“It’s like we’re seeing something we’re not supposed to be seeing.”

As I watched Pamela Anderson (Lily James) discover that a tape of her and husband Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) was being distributed for profit on the internet, I felt like that quote, from the tape’s distributor Milton ‘Uncle Miltie’ Ingley (Nick Offerman), could be turned towards the audience.
Pam and Tommy in sunglasses and hoodie trying to escape paparazzi

Pam & Tommy is, by all accounts, a big hit and a gripping watch. The soundtrack is classic after classic, and the whole show’s aesthetic borrows the glossy, sunny tones of Baywatch and the glitter glam of the eighties rock scene. The series explores the explosive marriage of two pop-culture icons, the mistakes they made, and ultimately who pays for them. Pam and Tommy marry in a rock'n'roll flashbang and only start getting to know each other in the post-honeymoon glow. It’s Tommy who makes the error messing his contractors around, threatening them before dismissing them without pay. When it becomes clear that their personal safe (along with the incriminating tape) has been stolen, whether she was fully implicated in the inciting incident, Pamela realises she will be the one to pay. We might think we know the story, but the series questions whether the release of their sex tape ruins what could have been a well-matched, successful celebrity couple: will we ever know?

The casting is highly praised and for good reason. Lily James is absolutely unrecognisable as Pamela, and Sebastian Stan seems to relish the role of bad-boy rocker, throwing himself almost literally into the mayhem of that life. Sharing a good chunk of the story is aforementioned forsaken foreman Rand Gauthier (a very solid and sober Seth Rogen) who comes across the tape on his mission for karmic retribution. Over the first half of the season Rand completes a slow turn from a pontificating everyman to reluctant foil to Lee, the both of them showing little knowledge of how to respect or relate to the women in their lives. Other delights include the turn from Offerman as palm-rubbing pornographer Uncle Miltie, Andrew Dice Clay as Deep Throat distributor and modern mobster 'Butchie' Peraino and Taylor Schilling as Rand's tolerant porn actress ex, Erica.

Gauthier and Miltie stride down a corridor

Though impulsive, naïve and a self-confessed people-pleaser, Anderson is frequently a step ahead of her husband, with a clearer head as regards what their best strategy should be; he seems to be led by his most basic human emotions (it says a lot when your own penis tries to talk sense into you). As well as struggling to connect in any way with his new wife that isn’t physical, Tommy Lee can't understand why rock music has changed over a decade. He accosts two fans who comment on his sex tape release, not because of the privacy invasion, but because they say it's "the best thing he's done since 'Girls, Girls, Girls'". After being told by her PR lead that "[everything Tommy does] reflects on you", we see Pamela's frustration with Tommy increase. With her long-for career expansion on the line, whether or not she's any good at picking her own projects post-Baywatch, it's pretty hard to get ahead when you've attached yourself to someone who punches first and thinks later. There are brief moments where Tommy seems to consider his wife but only when all other options are exhausted, or when the torment of external events triggers a tragic outcome. Similarly, witless Gauthier finds himself thrust deeper and deeper into the truly dingy side of the illegal distribution industry, on a snaking rollercoaster of apparently genius ideas which seem suddenly to turn and consume themselves before his eyes.

You might wonder what the real stars' opinions are. It probably won't shock you to find out that Tommy Lee is pretty laid back about the whole thing. Other people involved (usually members of Mötley Crüe) have offered some narrative correction, but so far, he is reported to be happy with the miniseries. Reports as recent as last week cite that Pamela Anderson won't even watch the trailer. In an episode titled ‘Jane Fonda’, Pam cites the Barbarella actress as a personal hero, stating that she did what she wanted regardless of what people thought of her (and in fact, still does). Fonda stands among the first in a long line of women who paid dearly for their transgressions while their male counterparts got off relatively lightly - Pam Anderson. Paris Hilton. Britney Spears. Kim Kardashian. Janet Jackson.

Tommy and Pamela look in horror and a video cassette box

Perhaps with this in mind, the show seems to take an apologist narrative, with some characters getting a small serving of karmic just desserts as Pam and Tommy race to snatch their privacy and pride back from the pornographers. Pam makes some damned good (and painful) points about public perception of her. She is seen taking the worst of it from everybody from deposition lawyers (this sequence is incredibly uncomfortable to watch) to Jay Leno to the general public, and arguably, there are some good points about consent, the porn industry versus sexual exploitation, and how male and female bodies are viewed sprinkled in among the comedy of errors.

So where does that leave the viewer? I myself have enjoyed it. I can completely empathise with most characters, even the very grimiest, and I'm getting a thrill from the glamour and drama, but doesn't that seem a little too like the same sensationalist nightmare Pamela went through before? I can't ignore the fact that she didn't sign off on this whole project - nor did she have to, thanks to the screenwriters' purchase of the rights to the Amanda Chicago Lewis Rolling Stone article (which is definitely worth a read and proof that truth is stranger than fiction). She didn’t even have to consent, despite that being a pretty strong theme of the series. I can't blame Lily James for what seems to be a fond and earnest portrayal of a woman who got all that she didn't ask for, but there's not enough distance between the writers and some of their own characters. Tommy Lee, for the most part, got to a point where he stopped being largely famous. But his ex-wife? Forever infamous.

Pam & Tommy is available on the Disney+ streaming service.


Related Posts


{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}

Recent Comments

Popular searches

Contact Form