Pam & Tommy
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The series is a fictional account of the real events surrounding the rapid romance between one of the 90s biggest stars, Pamela Anderson, and Motley Crüe drummer, Tommy Lee, and the fallout of their leaked sex tape.
Lily James, well known to Downton Abbey fans as cousin Rose, disappears into the role of Pamela. For those who can’t get enough of the MCU, the Winter Soldier himself, Sebastian Stan, takes on the role of rocker Tommy. Seth Rogen (Neighbors, Pineapple Express) plays Rand Gauthier, the contractor who released the married couple’s sex tape to the world after acquiring it through less-than-legal means. Other notable cast members include Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation), and Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black).
Much like Lee and Anderson’s romance, the show starts off quickly, pulls you in, and demands attention. The two married in 1995 after knowing one another for only 96 hours and soon found themselves the center of controversy after a private recording of them having sex on their honeymoon was stolen by an aggrieved former employee. The earlier episodes of the series feature fun and endearing moments between the couple, though they contrast starkly with Lee’s inexcusable negative treatment of seemingly anyone in his employ. The show relies primarily on lower-lit interior scenes and static camera shots, giving the actors ample opportunity to convey inner thoughts and emotions.
Although the show has plenty of moments that inspire sympathy for each of the three main characters, Anderson is far and away the primary casualty, artfully demonstrated by James’ performance. Her Pamela stands out as particularly compelling among the cast, though everyone involved does an excellent job and makes their own solid contribution.
For anyone who grew up in the 90s, like me, the more fun parts of the show are the references to that time period. Just try not to smile as you watch Pam and Tommy frolic in the ocean to LEN’s “Steal My Sunshine.” Gauthier’s mullet is a thing of beauty, and I excitedly pointed out to my husband Pam’s uneven hair part and messy-perfect curls as a style I tried desperately, and unsuccessfully, to mimic in my teens. The music and fashion took me right back to the time period that I, admittedly, probably remember with more fondness than is deserved.
The show’s main theme is Anderson’s victimization, not just at the hands of a leaked sex tape, but by the men around her, including lawyers, coworkers, a contractor who worked for her, and even her own husband. Younger millennials or gen Z-ers might find it difficult to believe that an incident such as this could have any long-lasting impact on a celebrity’s career. This was an era, however, where beautiful women were expected to be sexual objects with little discussion regarding their consent in the matter. Anderson’s appearances in Playboy magazine are even referenced in the show as reason to believe that the sex tape was considered a matter of public interest.
The tape’s distribution arguably damages the careers and livelihoods of almost everyone involved, not just the title characters. Tommy Lee’s insecurity over his languishing career and his new wife’s burgeoning one may be somewhat of an artistic assumption, but the show pulls no punches in claiming that his bruised ego was the catalyst for her predicament.
The show gives us a way to look back at a time when the internet was brand new and the videotaped consensual sex of a married people was cause for scandal. Though that might feel like a quaint notion in an era of Kardashians and online oversharing, Pam & Tommy shows a darker side of celebrity; people assuming that public figures have a limited right to privacy, something we still grapple with now.
Pam & Tommy rides the current trend of dramatized real-life events to the limits. It does an excellent job of comparing what happened to everyone involved with our still-evolving attitudes surrounding sex, consent, and pornography today. We have made progress in this area as a society, but still have great room for improvement when it comes to victim blaming.
The gen X-er or elder millennial in your life (if you don’t have one, invite me over for in-depth analysis of 90s culture depicted in the series). Pam & Tommy is also great for a binge night with your besties, but have your excuses ready to get out of watching it with any relatives, unless you’re both comfortable watching graphic sex scenes together.
Content warning for pregnancy trauma. Also, as you can guess from the subject matter, the series contains depictions of nudity (male and female), sex, and drug use as well as copious profanity. To go a bit further with the nudity warning, if you prefer not to see close-ups of male genitalia, there is extensive use of a prosthetic in episode two.