Saturday 12 March 2022

Series Review: Pam and Tommy

Before Kim K and Ray J, there was Pam and Tommy. 

This miniseries, which dropped on Disney+ here in Australia, sees English rose Lily James transform into American blonde bombshell and 90s sex symbol Pamela Anderson alongside Sebastian Stan as Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, in a tawdry tale about sex, lies and one very specific videotape.

Set in 1995, with Anderson at the height of her powers during Baywatch's original run and prior to the box-office bomb that was Barb Wire, the show charts Pam and Tommy's whirlwind courtship and their private life being thrust into the headlines, after a sex tape from their honeymoon is stolen and splashed across the fledging internet. What starts as a saucy rumour soon turns into one of the most incredible celebrity stories of the decade – all set against the backdrop of the dot com bubble and the insatiable American appetite for the salacious and and the scandalous. 

Look, cards on the table, I'm not enough to remember this story; Pamela Anderson is little more than a running gag on Friends to be honest, and I couldn't name a Motley Crue song if you put a gun to my head. But I still found the 'time capsule' nature of this show to be quite interesting; it captures very particular period in the mid-nineties when network TV shows like Baywatch were big and the worldwide web was little more than a whisper on the wind. The fashion, the aesthetic, the soundtrack (Third Eye Blind, New Radicals, Fatboy Slim, Primal Scream) is very much my jam, even if I'm too young to have lived it. 

James is the easily the best thing about Pam and Tommy; the production does a great job of dressing James up to look like Pam, but a lot of the work comes from her mannerisms and voicework. The show is strongest when it's centred squarely on Pam and her strife; how it feels for her private life to be pulled apart, how she struggles to be taken seriously as an actress, how she's treated like trash while Tommy is put on a pedestal. 

Stan is a little grating, I'm not going to lie. I get that Tommy Lee is a larger-than-life character, but right from the get-go, this guy is an insufferable douche that you just love to hate. 

There's two stories running in tandem here; opposite James and Stan are Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman as Rand and Miltie, the two men who conspire to profit off of Pam and Tommy's homemade porno. Rogen serves as our entry point to the story, as a carpenter who is unfairly dismissed from his renovation job at Tommy's Malibu mansion, and subsequently plots to sneak back in, snatch the safe and in doing so discovers the contents of the couple's risque home movie. 

Refreshingly, Rogen isn't doing his usual stoner schtick here; sure, he's still a schlub who can't catch a break, but there's an underlying steeliness and pettiness to his actions, taking the place of his usual silliness. 

While there's a lot to like about this show, I can't escape the feeling that Pam and Tommy is a classic example of these new-fangled streaming shows that tells a story that would have been much better served as a tight two-hour movie. Ten years ago, it probably would have been – and it would have worked, because the shorter runtime would have called for less bloat, a sharper edit and a snappier pace. 

It's not until partway through the fourth episode that things really kick into gear; and the last episode clocks in at nearly an hour, but next to nothing happens. There's a really good, really interesting movie in here somewhere, clawing to get out – but instead we're left with eight 45-minute chunks, some of which feel essential and some of which are meandering and aimless. 

A good story that is done a disservice by its format, Pam and Tommy sure is saucy – but sex, lies and videotapes can only titillate audiences for so long before the tedium starts to set in.

All eight episodes of Pam and Tommy are available to stream on Disney+ now.

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