Currently (and, presumably, forever) available on Hulu, Pam & Tommy is a miniseries about …. well, it’s about many things.
It’s about the mid-90s, a time when people still used terms like “World Wide Web” and where no one thought twice about having to wait two or three minutes for one lousy web site to finish loading. It’s about a time when dial-up internet was still considered to be something of an exotic luxury. It’s about a time when the number one show in the entire world was the critically derided Baywatch and the show’s star, Pamela Anderson, was trying to make the jump from television to film.
It’s also about the early days of online porn and how it was first discovered that people would pay money to watch celebrity sex tapes. It may seem strange to consider that this was something that needed to be discovered but, if you believe Pam & Tommy, apparently no one thought there was an audience for celebrity sex tapes before 1996. Today, of course, celebrity sex tapes are so common place that they’re often leaked by the celebrity themselves. Where would the Kardashians be if not for the celebrity sex tape industry? Could it be that Kim owes as much of her success to Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee as she does to O.J. Simpson? Perhaps, which is a polite way of saying yes.
Pam & Tommy is also about the brief marriage of Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan). When Pam & Tommy begins, Pam, as mentioned above, is the star of the number one show in the world. Despite being a star, she’s not respected as an actress. Instead, she’s usually treated as just being a body. The show’s producers and directors have no trouble cutting her big monologue on a whim but they spend several minutes discussing just how tight her red swimsuit should be. (After cutting her monologue, they condescendingly thank her for being a team player.) Pam has a very earnest and somewhat heart-breaking desire to be taken seriously as an actress. She describes Jane Fonda as being her role model. Meanwhile, Tommy Lee is, for lack of a better term, an idiot. He’s also a drummer for a band that used to be big. He travels with an entourage. His body is covered with tattoos, the majority of which have no meaning to him beyond, “I just thought it looked cool.” Tommy is usually an arrogant bully, the epitome of the spoiled rock star. Occasionally, with Pam, he’s sweet but if this miniseries stays true to what actually happened during Pam and Tommy’s marriage, that sweetness is not going to last.
Finally, Pam & Tommy is the story of Rand Gautheir (Seth Rogen). Much like Tommy, Rand is a moron. However, Rand has neither Tommy’s looks nor his swagger. Instead, he’s just a schlub who works as a carpenter and tries way too hard to present himself as being an intellectual. After Tommy humiliates Rand by firing him from a remodeling job, Rand retaliates by stealing a safe from Tommy’s garage. (Tommy doesn’t even notice that it’s missing.) Inside the safe, Rand finds a sex tape that Tommy and Pam made on their honeymoon. With the help of gangster Butchie Periano (Andrew Dice Clay) and adult film veteran “Uncle” Miltie (Nick Offerman), Rand puts the video on the internet and plans to make a fortune. Rand tells himself that he’s doing it because Tommy didn’t pay him for his work but it’s clear that Rand’s main motivation is jealousy. Why should Tommy get a huge house and a beautiful wife while Rand is stuck in his little apartment? Rand is at least as smart as Tommy. Of course, the same could probably be said of the dog that Pam purchases when she and Tommy return from their honeymoon.
In other words, Pam & Tommy is about a very specific cultural moment. So far, the series is taking a stylized approach to the material, mixing occasionally broad comedy with more dramatic moments. Needless to say, it’s a bit uneven. During the second episode, Tommy actually has a conversation with his penis about whether or not he should marry Pam. It’s a funny idea but the scene itself goes on forever and, ultimately, the whole thing says more about the importance of generating twitter buzz than it does about why Tommy and Pam ended up getting married after knowing each other for only a handful of days. The first three episodes were directed by Craig Gillipsie, who also directed I, Tonya. Much like that film, Pam & Tommy is occasionally insightful but it also sometimes seems to get bogged down in its own condescending attitude towards the people who are at the center of its story.
And yet, there are also enough moments that work in Pam & Tommy that I’ll definitely watch the rest of the show. So far, this is a series that is largely saved by its cast. Seth Rogen has recently been so intent on presenting himself as being the only man in Hollywood with integrity that it’s easy to forget that he’s always been at his most entertaining (and sympathetic) whenever he’s been cast as a complete loser and it’s hard to think of anyone who could be a bigger loser than the character he plays in Pam & Tommy. Sebastian Stan plays Tommy as being a destructive manchild and, for the first two episodes, he’s pretty obnoxious. By the third episode, though, Stan is given a few quieter scenes and he manages to suggest that there’s something more to Tommy than just rock star bravado. And finally, Lily James gives a wonderfully empathetic performance as Pamela Anderson, capturing her earnest desire to be something more than just a sex symbol.
The first three episodes of Pam & Tommy dropped on Hulu this week. The remaining five episodes will be released on a weekly basis. I don’t really know how you get 8 episodes out of this particular story but I guess I’ll find out soon. Hopefully, the show will continue to focus on the best thing that it has going for it, its cast.