The first shot of Pam & Tommy makes you uneasy because it shows a recreation of an iconic TV moment, featuring two iconic people, or rather actors playing them. The scene is a retelling of talk show host Jay Leno asking Pamela Anderson about her ‘tape’ in an awkward exchange. And it’s hard not to feel that it’s a bit parody-ish. But thankfully Pam & Tommy overcomes it quickly.
The show is about the infamous sex tape scandal involving the iconic 90s star Pamela Anderson and her rock star drummer husband Tommy Lee. But it is also about two men, who discover that tape after a burglary, and believe they have landed on a goldmine. One could wonder if there was anything left ‘untold’ about what was the most (in)famous sex tape scandal of its time. But for Indian audiences, there is plenty.
Pam & Tommy is an irony of a show. It is a feminist show that keeps Pamela at the centre of its narrative and yet it feels exploitative. Multiple times, Pamela Anderson is seen battling pre-conceived notions in a man’s world. The show does a great job at humanising her and rightly positioning her as the victim of the scandal. But then you learn that she never gave her blessings to the show and all the feminism suddenly feels like posturing.
The storytelling is simple even if it jumps back and forth in time too much. The production values are neat and the acting is top notch. The show does make you uneasy from time to time but that seems to be the intent here. But the tone is the issue. It jumps around from comedy to farce to thriller so much that it is hard to take it seriously at times.
In the second episode, there is a sequence too bizarre even for me, who has sat through all Lars von Trier movies. It’s where Sebastian’s Tommy Lee talks to his own penis about how much he loves Pam, and the appendage twists, turns, and talks back. As entertaining as it was, that’s a mental image I’d want washed out of my head.
The show is entertaining. There is no doubt about that, but its fault lies in its positioning. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a raunchy comedy satire on stardom? Is it a tale about Pamela’s exploitation? Is it a thriller involving sleazeballs, or is it just a mish-mash of scandalous stuff that happened 25 years ago?
But the show isn’t bad. It’s true strength lies in its performances, as well as the make-up and hair. Lily James shines as Pamela Anderson. Actors have played Marilyn Monroe several times but I will put my foot down to say Pamela is a harder role. That’s simply because she has been much more in the public domain and comparatively recent. Lily has had to rely on prosthetics and make-up to get into the hourglass figure of Pam but she has done well, really well. For one, she nails Pamela’s confidence and her distinct raspy voice. She also brings to the fore Pamela’s vulnerability and her frustration at being put in a difficult position with no way out. It’s Lily’s best performance till date.
Sebastian Stan is so far removed from the Winter Soldier that you’ll forget it’s the same brooding man. He captures every frame he is in, mostly dressed in just underwear. He makes us uneasy and like him at the same time. He truly sells the role. His chemistry with Lily is the heart of the show and they manage to convincingly portray the troubled couple in the middle of a tumultuous relationship. Their scenes together are the best part of the show.
Seth Rogen as Rand Gauthier is the perfect foil to Sebastian as the ‘victim’ to Tommy Lee’s eccentricities, who rightly feels he is owed damages. Making him a relatable character is a dangerous path as it tends to justify the leaking of the sex tape but the show creators have handled it as sensitively as they could. And as always, Nick Offerman is brilliant too. He makes sure his character of porn producer Milton Ingley never becomes a caricature.
Also read: Anthony Mackie admits he was ‘horrified’ when he found out Sebastian Stan was playing Tommy Lee
But for all its nuanced, feminist take on the episode, Pam & Tommy does appear to be exploitative when you learn the backstory behind it. The show is based on a 2014 Rolling Stone article on the episode but it hasn’t been made with Pamela’s consent. And it just feels like another invasion of her privacy, 25 years later.
The first three episodes of Hulu original Pam & Tommy premiered on Hulu in the US on Wednesday, February 2, and began streaming in India on Disney+ Hotstar on Friday, February 4. The remaining five episodes will release weekly on Hulu starting next week and subsequently be available on Disney+ Hotstar in India.
Series: Pam & Tommy
Created by: Robert Siegel
Cast: Lily James, Sebastian Stan, Nick Offerman, Seth Rogan