Sex-Tape Scandals, 90s Nostalgia and a Talking Penis: Yes, You Should Watch Disney+'s 'Pam & Tommy'
This wild new Lily James and Sebastian Stan-starring series about Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee tells a tale you already know, but it’s also full of surprises.
February 04, 2022
When the first images of Lily James playing Pamela Anderson in new miniseries Pam & Tommy dropped, they captured an astonishing transformation. The Pursuit of Love star didn't just look like herself dressed up as the famed Baywatch actor; thanks to the show's hair, makeup and costuming teams, she appeared as if she'd leapt into Anderson's body Being John Malkovich-style. That feeling only grew as several trailers arrived. In the finished product, her performance borders on uncanny. It needs to, and not merely to ensure that James never just seems like she's simply slipping into a red swimsuit for an easy impersonation.
Now streaming on Disney+, with its first three episodes hitting the platform at once and the remaining five set to drop weekly going forward, Pam & Tommy focuses on Anderson's marriage to Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan, The 355) in the 90s. It's all about the pair's sex tape as a result, because that intimate recording was the pop-culture scandal of the 90s, and it's impossible to step into Anderson and Lee's romance without it. Indeed, the show knows that it's spinning a wild story, even by celebrity terms. It's well aware that everyone watching will hit play with their own ideas already formed about the incident, and about the central duo's larger-than-life public personalities as well. Pam & Tommy leans into that exact certainty to begin with — talking penis and all — but, as James' performance demonstrates, it never sees the tale it's telling as a joke.
First, that chattering genitalia. After meeting Anderson at a club, clicking instantly and enjoying a boozy night, Lee is smitten — and his junk (voiced by Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Jason Mantzoukas) audibly helps him talk through his feelings. It's an attention-grabbing moment, and one that Pam & Tommy will always be known for; yes, this is now and always will be the prattling package show. But the immediately memorable scene also serves up the risqué with a side of heart, and makes one of its OTT subjects — as Anderson and Lee have long been regarded in the public eye, at least — more human in the process. It's even a little cheesy: he's a guy falling for a girl and working through his excitement by talking to himself, as plenty of rom-coms have lapped up over the years.
Pam & Tommy is both a romance and a comedy at times. Crucially, though, it's a piece of recognition that Anderson and Lee's plight isn't quite the narrative it's been immortalised as for the past quarter-century. It isn't a coincidence that Australian-born director Craig Gillespie helms some of the series' episodes, because he unpacked a sordid real-life story that solidified a famous woman's reputation in I, Tonya, too. That's the real point of focus here, although the fact the series went ahead without Anderson's approval undercuts its aims more than a little. Still, on-screen, there's no doubting Pam & Tommy's quest to expose how unfairly Anderson was treated after carpenter Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen, An American Pickle) stole footage of private moments with her then-husband.
Lee might get to converse with his dick — with Stan playing that scene, and his entire role, with as much commitment as James displays over and over again (and with as much helpful TV styling) — but he's also painted as a dick as first. Gauthier is one of the contractors helping build the ultimate bedroom for Lee's newly wedded bliss, and the rocker is a jerk of a customer. He keeps changing his mind about what he wants, blaming everyone else and, when he decides he's unhappy, refuses to pay or return Gauthier's tools. So, the disgruntled ex-employee hatches a plan to make off with Lee's safe, not knowing what it holds inside. When he finds the tape along with guns and cash, he's still so eager to get revenge on Lee that he enlists porn-producing pal Miltie (Nick Offerman, Devs) to help make it public, which he sees as his new payday.
Pam & Tommy wants you to side with mullet-wearing Gauthier initially — including when Lee pulls a gun on him while he's just trying to get his work equipment back — but its real allegiance lies with Anderson. Its tender heart, too, something that the show shares with Lee and his chatterbox of an appendage. As it charts the path that Anderson and Lee's tape takes from their safe to Gauthier to eagerly paying customers, and then to the internet in online porn's early days, the series keeps returning to the fallout for the Baywatch and Barb Wire star. As she explains to Lee and to their lawyers more than once, things aren't the same for a man caught getting intimate on camera as they are for a woman, and the way that this true tale has already played out IRL has made that plain several times over.
Come for the scandal, for the talking penis that everyone's babbling about, and for a show that always knows it's a rollicking ride, but stay for a far more thoughtful retelling and interrogation of a tabloid-fodder incident that changed multiple lives — and one more than most — weaved in, too. Also stay for the series' eagerness to spend time with its eponymous duo exposed as real people, and as victims of a crime, rather than as pop-culture punchlines. Stay for the magnificent performances by James and Stan as well, with both actors investing remarkable depth into figures who've rarely been allowed to be seen as such. And, obviously keep sticking around for the dripping 90s nostalgia in the process, including the outfits and soundtrack (because Yellowjackets isn't the only new show revelling in the decades' tunes).
Check out the Pam & Tommy trailer below:
The first three episodes of Pam & Tommy are currently available to stream via Disney+, with new episodes dropping each Wednesday.
Top image: Erin Simkin/Hulu.
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