Privacy: a 7-letter word that bears no weight whatsoever in the digital age, yet everyone claims they have a right to it. It’s the same as personal space – when a stranger gets too close for comfort, a sense of invasion takes over. The subway in Manhattan is a perfect example. It’s even truer for anyone with a following, influence or in a celebrity status. Pam & Tommy explores the concept of privacy and the breach of it through cause and effect. It’s not something to take lightly but today’s generation is desensitized to it especially when you’re the one breaching, no harm no foul. It’s only entertainment.
However, when the shoe is on the other foot as in Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee’s (Sebastian Stan) case, their entire world was exposed and destroyed due to a cause and effect. Tommy hires contractors to build his dream bedroom, refuses to pay the laborer’s thousands of dollars which effectively created such a hatred that Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogan) (said contractor) breaks into Tommy’s home after being fired and steals a safe containing sensitive information. Rand then proceeds to contact his old adult industry buddy Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman) and the two decide to leak this “sex tape” to the world by way of copying it and selling for a profit.
The victim in all of this is Pamela. She’s thrown in between this power struggle of revenge and suffers so much more than anyone can imagine. Everyone who says they understand how she feels is lying. Up to that point, she posed for Playboy Magazine and was on a meteoric rise in Hollywood as the star of Baywatch. While Tommy Lee is most famous for being the drummer of Mötley Crüe.
What Tommy does in withholding payment does not justify Rand in breaking and entering and burglarizing their private possessions. Feeling any sort of sympathy for Rand as his life spirals out of control is off the table. With one decision he ruins someone’s life and reputation. Pam & Tommy creator Robert Siegel breaks the narrative into two major plots – Pam and Tommy’s relationship and Rand and whatever he’s scheming. Underneath the two comes subplots that aren’t all that interesting. The focus should stay with Pam and Tommy, when the show is somewhere else, she is all that we’re thinking about. It’s both a credit to the writing but mainly to Lily James who transforms into the 90’s icon. She’s unrecognizable as Lily but as Pam she commands the screen.
Sebastian Stan shouldn’t be overlooked; he brings all the energy and aggression while Lily is sweet and fragile. Seeing how this scandal affected Pam from her perspective, you just want to give her a hug and let her know that people suck and that we’re all rooting for you and your mental health.
One moment of intimacy that is shared between husband and wife should not have to decide how a person is viewed in the public. Rand’s ex-wife Erica (Taylor Schilling) describes the tape perfectly, calling it beautiful and sincere (paraphrasing). But like a virus, the tape’s release snowballs to being viewed all over the country and sold for monetary gain while the victims suffered and faced ridicule by the media. Pam goes from movie star and model icon to a “slut” for something she had no part in. To Pam being the center of attention, the constant stress and anger in this manner caused her to miscarry. Siegel turns her story into a Shakespearean tragedy. While Tommy couldn’t place himself in Pam’s shoes.
Pam puts it perfectly – Tommy will get high-fives in the street while she is judged and whispered about.
What Pam & Tommy ultimately accomplishes is making us as the viewer feel uncomfortable. I felt awkward being placed in Pam’s point of view of the world and Lily perfectly captures Pamela’s strength to endure the tragedy.
While Pam & Tommy does well with putting its characters in uncomfortable situations, forcing them to face a reality that no person should ever go through in their lives, the show suffers from different shifts in tone. One moment Tommy is talking to his private parts (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas, of course) for a full 3 minutes, hyping each other up for a weekend of intimacy with Pam that turns into their impulsive marriage and the next Hugh Heffner (Mike Seely) is opening Pam’s eyes to what she is worth as a woman.
The theme of revenge is blatant but so is the theme of self-worth. Sometimes it pays to let things go and move on. For Rand, this plot for revenge that turns to blackmail accomplished nothing significant for him – he ruined two people’s lives for a mere few thousand dollars. While he committed felonies, its Pam & Tommy that faced public scrutiny and backlash.
Shown through the gaze of Pam Anderson’s point of view, Lily James is remarkable while Sebastian Stan croons as the aggressive but loyal rock star. Their chemistry is full of energy and passion. Both are loyal to one another especially when thrown into a whirlwind media circus.
Created By: Robert Siegel
Episodes Directed By: Craig Gillespie, Lake Bell, Gwyneth Horder-Payton &Hannah Fidell
Music By: Matthew Margeson
Cinematography: Paula Huidobro
Starring: Lily James, Sebastian Stan, Seth Rogan, Nick Offerman, Taylor Schilling
Where to Watch: Hulu
Release Date: February 2, 2022
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
My Score: 3 out of 5
Based On: Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape By Amanda Chicago Lewis