Pam & Tommy Review | Exploitation Versus Entertainment
Of late the streaming service Disney+ has branched out. With its Star series of movies and programmes, they moved from Disney only products and are now wholly aimed at competing with Netflix. One much-hyped series which promised to nourish any binge watching needs, and even entertain, is Pam & Tommy. This venture was created for Hulu by I,Tonya director Craig Gillespie, and based on a true story: one of exploitation, fame and all things mid-90s.
One thing going for it is the rather impressive cast who nail their subjects quite well. In particular, Lily James who transforms herself to an almost double of Pamela Anderson in both looks and mannerisms. Sebastian Stan peels away from his Marvel franchise (Winter Soldier) to produce a perfect caricature of the unlikable and toxic Tommy Lee. Both prove the art of ‘method acting’ is not yet dead, and if this were a film you would expect Oscar nods.
The well-documented private sex tape involving the real life Lee and Anderson forms the basis of this series (circa 1995). At the start, the focus is on carpenter Rand Gauthier played by Seth Rogen. Gauthier is part of a crew working on Lee’s luxury mansion who becomes frustrated and eventually fired by Lee due to his eccentricities – at the same time, left well out of pocket. He comes up with a plan to steal a safe from the property in lieu of lost earnings. Gautheir just about pulls off a heist and unknowingly finds the infamous sex tape in the haul.
Enter his friend and porn director Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman). After discovering the content of the tape, both come up with a money making scheme on the back of a ‘celebrity sex tape’. Undeterred by a series of knock backs, they instead focus on the then ‘new’ internet to flog the tape to a wider audience. That is the bones of Pam & Tommy, at the same time examining their meeting, quick marriage, and the point of where they are in their lives when the private tape was stolen.
You feel for Anderson (James), trapped in the misogynistic world of 90’s Los Angeles. She becomes a victim of revenge porn due to her husband’s fetish or adventurous nature. At the same time, she craves to be an actress in her own right and not just the slow-motion sex symbol of the Baywatch television series. For Tommy Lee the adulation for the Mötley Crüe machine had begun to fade, crushed under the weight of sounds coming from Seattle – along with the rise of Grunge, Britpop and Riot Grrrl.
There was ultimately no room left for Glam Metal, and so drummer Tommy Lee was hanging onto the past by a weakening thread, still relatively young, already on the scrap heap. That narrative is executed perfectly here. At times you feel for him until he reminds you of how he is an obnoxious character. For Anderson, her star was on the rise back then, and she was the actual opposite of the self-destructive rocker.
Unfortunately, before its conclusion, the wheels of the Pam & Tommy series rolled right off their axel. The momentum dies spectacularly, and this is problematic due to the initial high level of interest, along with the pace and humor that launches the original string of episodes. The producers stray too far into the psyche of Pam and Tommy, forgetting that balance of humanity and comedy. Part of this is probably down to the creators “attempts” to sensitively portray the nature of how all this affected Pamela Anderson then – at one point accused of releasing it.
Very early on, Anderson distanced herself from the mini-series, and that is an important factor here. On the other hand Lee gave his blessing to Sebastian Stan, which is easy for him. It was not Lee who was basically ‘slut shamed’ in the eyes of Hollywood and the world in general, becoming the brunt of jokes – the series does feature Jay Leno played by Adam Ray exactly for that purpose.
“”It was disgusting. I banned anyone discussing it. It destroyed my friend Pamela’s life.” – Courtney Love
For all its flaws and assets, Pam & Tommy feels too much like exploitation when the laughs subside – which they do. Because that is what it essentially is. Everything that this mini-series has brought back into the public consciousness, shows how easily the lessons of the past surrounding misogyny, the rise of the #MeToo movement and the fourth wave of feminism can be annihilated. To put it bluntly, this woman was violated, that truth is unforgivable and really there are no heroes in this series – only sadness.
Pamela Anderson rightly condemned this outing for diving too deep into her traumatic past, a past that anyone else involved did not live in the same way. Not only that but with two grown-up sons – Brandon Thomas and Dylan Jagger both by Tommy Lee – you have to take into account how the distress Anderson feels is now passed onto them. Yes, series like this do draw interest, can create entertainment, but at what emotional expense?
Now plans are afoot for Pamela Anderson, through Netflix, to tell her side of the story. A single post appeared on her social media feed (above from Instagram), which included the words – “not a victim, but a survivor” along with “alive to tell the real story.” Underneath the post in the comments section are love hearts posted by both her sons. However, the word ‘survivor’ is not simply attached to the sex tape release or any privacy intrusion.
Shortly after the events portrayed in Pam & Tommy, Tommy Lee spent 6 months in jail after pleading no contest to domestic violence – kicking Pamela Anderson while holding their son Dylan. This fact is left until the closing credits, and that dark aspect is the specter that raises its head here. Pam & Tommy is billed as a comedy-drama with its emphasis clearly on apathy instead of empathy. In the end, releasing something for public entertainment without the consent of one it’s main subjects is the same exploitation as releasing the sex tape it is based upon.
Pam & Tommy is currently streaming on Hulu