Photo By: Noah Nickel via Disney+
Pam & Tommy is a new TV series on Disney+ that unravels the story of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s leaked sex tape. It’s full of 90s fashion and music, and depicts the early days of the internet.
With any media based on real events, telling the truth is rarely the top priority, in the case of Pam and Tommy the priority is to entertain. The series often comes across as hypocritical. The audience is meant to sympathize with Pam as her private life is shared with the world, yet the show producers are turning her life into a TV drama for viewers to consume regardless of how that may affect the real Pamela Anderson. These thoughts loom throughout the season, as its very conception comes across as a contradiction.
The series embraces non-linear storytelling and is unafraid to jump from genre to genre to best tell each part of the story. At times, it feels as though the narrative is moving back and forth in time just to draw the story out, giving the feeling that it didn’t need to be an eight-part miniseries and could’ve been a long film, or shorter series. The pacing does improve after the first episode, once the audience is invested in the characters the meandering storylines are far easier to get behind.
The direction is very strong, and even though the dialogue is sometimes awkwardly written, the strong acting and well-directed scenes make it easy to overlook. The camera work utilizes long dramatic zooms, which pump up the tension, taking the drama to an almost comedic scale at times. The directing and editing create a tone that makes the show hard to stop watching, it has a strong emotional throughline with moments of comedy.
Fans online have been talking about the physical transformations Sebastian Stan and Lily James underwent in hair and makeup to portray Tom and Pam respectively. But the big names in the cast doesn’t end with the leads, Seth Rogan plays Rand Gauthier, Nick Offerman plays Uncle Miltie, and Taylor Schilling is excellent as Erika Gauthier.
Stan’s portrayal of Tommy Lee serves the storytelling well: he’s self-centered, childish, angry, and cruel. Yet, the show doesn’t over-simplify Lee, it would be easy to write him as a one-dimensional antagonistic character, instead he’s written like a person who is sensitive and passionate in moments and downright menacing in others. Stan learned how to play the drums for this role, which is impressive as he remains fully in character during the scenes where Lee is playing them.
James is endearing and charming as Pam, who is one of the most sympathetic characters in the series. She’s intelligent,ambitious and makes for a compelling protagonist. James was transformed with hair, makeup, facial, and bodily prosthetics to look as much like Pamela Anderson as possible. The effect is a little uncanny, she resembles Anderson and has enough mobility in her face that she can act effectively. Surprisingly, the blue contact lenses she wears are the weak point, they’re– eerie and distracting and make James look somewhat inhuman at times.
The way that the timing of the events of the show line up with the early days of the internet is one of the most compelling parts, seeing characters figure out how to use dial-up internet from home is so interesting. So much was changing so much at that time and is depicted in detail throughout the series.
A considerable amount of the budget likely went to licensing music; there are an astounding number of 90s hits and other well-known songs each episode. The songs support the events unfolding on screen, for example in one episode Pam is struggling to maintain her public image in the face of backlash and a song about unrequited love plays, fitting with the context in an unexpected way.
Overall, it’s more of a light TV series than a serious drama. There is some compelling dialogue about women in the public eye often losing the rights to their own bodies. At times it’s very direct and intense but the themes are worth bringing up because female celebrities are still often treated like sex objects today. Seeing how women are often the casualties of men’s insecurities is one of the more powerful ideas presented in Pam & Tommy.