TV Writer Ellie Muston reviews Pam & Tommy, praising the chemistry between stars Lily James and Sebastian Stan


Robert Siegel’s raucous Hulu drama Pam & Tommy is the latest addition to the recent canon of 90s nostalgia trips. Inspired by and based upon Amanda Chicago Lewis’ 2014 Rolling Stone article ‘Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape,’ Pam & Tommy follows in the footsteps of hit dramas such as The People vs OJ Simpson: Impeachment and The Assassination of Gianni Versace, investigating the story behind the notorious scandal of ‘the greatest love story ever sold’ – the stolen sex tape of actor and model Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, headbanging drummer of Mötley Crüe –though regrettably without the consent of Anderson herself.

In one of the more sober performances of his career, Seth Rogen plays porn-star-cum-carpenter Rand Gauthier who, following a pay-dispute with the impetuous Tommy Lee, is laid off and so resolves to take revenge by stealing Lee’s treasured safe – unaware of the extent of its contents. Only recently married (after a four-day courtship, would you believe) Pam and Tommy’s honeymoon period is swiftly ended as the course of Gauthier’s revenge is realised. Fatefully occurring at the same time as the dawn of the World Wide Web, Gauthier – with the help of his altogether greasy aide Milton Ingley, played by Nick Offerman – discovers the ultimate method of retaliation when he anonymously publishes the sex tape online, unwittingly placing it out of his hands and into the global market.

What ensues is the devastating defamation of Pamela Anderson – portrayed with gut-wrenching sympathy by Lily James – as she struggles to keep both her career and her marriage afloat whilst the tape grows more and more successful, having been repossessed and redistributed by multiple sources. Penthouse’s acquiring of the material proves to be the final straw for the couple as the reckless Tommy Lee – played with brilliant mania by Sebastian Stan – decides to sue owner Bob Guccione, excruciatingly encouraged by his all-male legal team with only Pamela recognising the inevitable fallout of this move, a calamitous denouement chronicled by the series’ final episodes.

It’s an undeniably gripping series. You cannot help but gasp and cringe as the situation grows ever more dire and disastrous, with the whirlwind romance quickly developing into an insurmountable turbulence. The chemistry between James and Stan is searing, with James in particular stealing every scene as she lends Pamela just the right balance of sexuality, sweetness, strength and sorrow. Yet sadly, it is Pamela herself who overshadows the show’s many successes. Having failed to garner the approval and consent of Pamela Anderson, Siegel’s attempt to represent and reclaim her story cannot help but feel distinctly hypocritical. And it is her story – despite the protestations of Tommy Lee that ‘I’m on that tape the same as you,’ the show does well to highlight the difference in experience between the two, for of course, for him, ‘There’s worse things than the whole world knowing you got a monster hog.’

The chemistry between James and Stan is searing

The series’ purported sympathy with Anderson is consistently undermined by its consequential exploitation of her trauma for entertainment value. As a viewer, then, one sits awkwardly between the story’s obvious entertainment value and the ethics of consumption – a position which perhaps was not so acutely perceived by contemporary audiences of the sex tape itself. The series has thus inadvertently become a fable of itself, as its representation of the invasiveness of the era-defining scandal is uneasily paralleled by its own trespassing.

One sits awkwardly between the story’s obvious entertainment value and the ethics of consumption

Elsewhere, the series must be congratulated for its spectacular production. The cosmetic transformations of Stan and James are astonishing, a feat recognised by their instantly going viral when originally previewed in two bombshell social media posts back in May 2021. The show’s superb styling has even sparked a wider revival of 90s fashions, with TikTok filters of Pam’s famous pencil-thin eyebrows causing women across the platform to reconsider the bushy brow (or not) as well as evoking and partaking in the current trend for vintage wardrobes through Anderson’s iconic looks. And these are not the only prosthetic talents on show – a particularly trippy moment in Episode Two sees Stan’s Lee conversing with his own prosthetic talent (hilariously vocalised by Jason Mantzoukas) and is surely one of the most memorable moments of the series, and indeed Stan’s career. Meanwhile, an expertly curated soundtrack featuring the likes of Alanis Morisette, Nine Inch Nails and LEN immediately catapults audiences into 90s SoCal, brimming with millennial nostalgia. 

The series must be congratulated for its spectacular production

Now available to stream on Disney+, Hulu’s Pam and Tommy is a captivating and vivid watch, dazzlingly stylised and with a stellar cast who are outrageously compelling from start to finish. But, any enjoyment of the series cannot help but be compromised by the knowledge of its situational context. Had the real Pamela Anderson authorised and engaged with its production, it could have been an incredibly empowering and life-affirming representation and recasting of the notorious scandal, but instead Anderson’s absence is unmissable. The show’s plight to exhibit the forgotten humanity behind an unbelievably unfortunate series of events sadly only adds itself to that very same narrative of exploitation, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. No doubt this will be the show’s legacy and something its producers surely regret. If only.

Rating: 4/5

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