Pam & Tommy Review

Pam & Tommy
It’s the ’90s. Baywatch star Pamela Anderson (James) and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (Stan) find their passionate new marriage plunged into crisis when a private videotape is stolen by a contractor seeking revenge.

by Terri White |
Updated on

Streaming on: Disney+

You genuinely could not make this shit up. And by “this shit”, we mean the truly deranged plot points and character details in Pam & Tommy that instantly trigger a Google search because surely that can’t really have happened can it, and holy hell, it actually did. And yes, we are absolutely talking about Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) having a full-blown two-way conversation with his own penis (an encounter lifted directly from the opening of Lee’s memoir). But that’s just the tip of the, well, you know the rest.

When it comes to Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee and that tape — the very first celebrity sex tape to make it onto the newly born internet in 1995 — the world thinks it knows what happened. The wild couple leaked their own sex tape for financial gain, right? The truth, it turns out, is way weirder. And it’s this truth that the eight-episode show seeks to lay out as it switches between being a crime caper, a romcom and a piece of social history.

Pam & Tommy

Episode 1 of Pam & Tommy has barely any Pam (Lily James) and only a modicum of Tommy. After a slow start, Episode 2 takes us back to the passionate collision of the couple, who were together for just 96 hours before marrying on a beach in 1995. From there, we’re off to the races as we bear witness to their marriage, the tape’s journey around the world, the legal (and not so legal) battle to stop it and the destruction it ultimately wreaks on the couple.

James has utterly shed her skin. She is Pamela: not a glance, a smile, a word betraying her performance.

As you might expect from a project developed by Seth Rogen and producing partner Evan Goldberg and directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya), this is a heightened, arch and offbeat affair. And while the comedic beats clear in the trailer remain, there is, more surprisingly, a genuine sincerity at the heart of Pam & Tommy. This is partly due to the script from writer-showrunner Robert Siegel (The Wrestler),
which is unapologetically heartfelt, but also two unforgettable lead performances.

Pam & Tommy

Sebastian Stan throws everything at his take on Tommy and his fat, easy-to-fracture ego. But in truth this is Lily James’ show. And while yes, she is unrecognisable (the hair, the make-up, the chest plate), this isn’t just a dynamite aesthetic transformation (which it also is, let’s be clear: expect all the awards). James has utterly shed her skin. She is Pamela: not a glance, a smile, a word betraying her performance. James might be fighting through layers of prosthetics and fake tan, but she never overplays it, instead finding an intoxicating, perfectly precise combination of sweetness, strength and sexuality.

And while it might be said that this is a story of celebrity, privacy, technology and sex, it’s actually a much simpler, more devastating story than that. Of an act that tore its way through a marriage and specifically,
a woman’s life. Pam & Tommy strips bare the double standard that meant while Tommy Lee was high-fived for his massive schlong, Anderson was branded a whore. The show — and those involved in it — clearly have well-meaning intentions towards redressing the balance, perhaps even getting justice for Anderson. Who not only had a great, hulking truck driven through her career, but was, it’s made clear, violated and stripped of her consent in having her image and body exploited for financial gain.

But — and this is a big ‘but’ that has a screaming red alarm taped to its middle — Pam & Tommy is being made without Anderson’s cooperation. This knowledge makes watching all eight episodes — as well-crafted and insanely watchable as they really are — uncomfortable. The tug in the belly as you watch a drama about the removal of a woman’s consent, made without the woman’s consent.

Yes, she’s a public figure, yes, her life’s in the public domain, but these were the very arguments made by those who exploited her in 1995. Does she have no more right to her image, to her body, to potentially the most traumatic event of her life, 27 years later? This is the question that Pam & Tommy ultimately leaves you with, without a satisfying answer in sight.

Lily James has put in the performance of her career in this compelling, crazier-than-fiction miniseries. But what of the cost to the real Pamela?
Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us