You HAVE To Watch: Pam & Tommy
When Disney brought the Marvel Netflix shows over to its own streaming service, I read about how “To accommodate the introduction of the more adult-themed content in the Marvel Defenders shows to the platform, Disney+ will be updating its existing Parental Controls in the U.S.”
Which is funny to me, because in Canada, Disney+ includes content from the Star streaming service. We’ve password protected our adult account on Disney+ for a long time to avoid our kids stumbling across a show like Solar Opposites. The downside is that the Kids profile doesn’t include PG content, so for our kids to watch Encanto, Turning Red, Frozen, and basically any Disney content that interests them, we need to log in to our adult account.
All that to say I watched Pam & Tommy on Disney+, and that amused me. Especially this scene.
Gotta love the international side of the streaming wars.
Whether you can watch it on Disney+, Star, or Hulu, the question is, do you HAVE to watch it?
Pam & Tommy?
I was an adolescent in the 1990s. I knew about Pamela Anderson. I knew a sex tape of her and her husband Tommy Lee leaked. I didn’t know who Tommy Lee was, but I knew enough about the story to know my brother was wrong when he said there was a sex tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee Jones.
It never occurred to me to ask how I knew about all of this. How did someone get their hands on their sex tape? How did it spread enough that it was a topic of mainstream conversation? And how did it affect Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s relationship?
Pam & Tommy takes us through what happened, bouncing between the story of the people who leaked the tape, and the lives of the titular characters.
Is It Soooooo Good?
Pam & Tommy is much better than I expected, and entertaining in ways I never would have guessed.
I gave the series a watch because it seemed like such an unusual premise for a series, and the trailer caught my attention. The first episode delivered on my expectations, introducing Seth Rogan’s character, Rand Gauthier, the man who leaked the sex tape. The episode takes its time, establishing Rand’s motive, exploring his plan, and ends with him discussing releasing the tape he’s acquired with Nick Offerman’s character, Miltie.
The tape does not actually get out there for a few more episodes. In fact, Rand and Miltie don’t even appear in episode 2, which is a flashback to Pam and Tommy meeting, falling in love, getting married, and filming the sex tape.
The show understands the dramatic highs of the story. It lingers on certain plot points. That might have felt like the show dragging its feet if not for how well the actors, showrunners Robert D. Siegel and D.V. DeVincentis, and the writers and directors handled characterization.
Probably unsurprising, episode 1 makes Seth Rogan a likeable loser. It also makes Sebastian Stan’s Tommy Lee the devil. It’s so easy to hate the dismissive, self-important, hypocritical rockstar who takes advantage of Rand, a man just in Tommy’s life to do a job. Tommy screws Rand over hard, and not only do we understand why Rand decides to rob Tommy (the sex tape not being something he even knew about at first), we’re 100% rooting for him.
Interestingly, Lily James’ Pamela Anderson barely appears in episode 1. She’s only in two scenes. But, that includes the scene that opens the series, in which she’s on Jay Leno after the tape leaked. It sells how uncomfortable and upset the tape being out there makes her. (Try not to let Adam Ray as Jay Leno give you the wrong idea; The series doesn’t include many characters based on 90s celebrities, and no one else goes as big with their impersonation).
Cut to episode 2, and we see another side of Tommy Lee. It’s the side that wants to impress someone. It left me conflicted, but in a good way. I hated Tommy, but I liked the Pam and Tommy relationship. I supported Rand getting revenge on Tommy, but I knew Pam could be collateral damage.
Pam & Tommy managed to maintain walking this thin line of sympathy for the villain, whether that’s Rand or Tommy.
A Modern Perspective
We’ve grown a lot in the nearly 20 years since 1995, both technologically and collective maturity. Pam & Tommy uses that effectively.
A lot of the series’ humour centers around 1995 adults confused about how the Internet works. Every scene of Pam or Tommy struggling to use a keyboard made me laugh. And because the Internet, and specifically where the Internet was in its development at the time, plays such a big part of the plot, it never comes off as “hey, remember the 90s” jokes. Part of why Pam & Tommy couldn’t stop their tape from spreading across the Internet is because they barely knew how to use a computer.
Beyond nostalgia, though, the series makes a lot of room for discussions of consent, how the tape affects Pam and Tommy differently because of their genders, and even casts Pamela Anderson as a modern feminist ahead of her time. It actually made me feel bad that Barb Wire flopped, a movie I’ve never thought of as anything but a joke.
So Pam & Tommy is soooooo good, but there’s a caveat.
Immediately after finishing the series, I wanted to know how true to life the series adapted what happened. I understand that “based on a true story” still gives the creators liberty to make changes for dramatic effect and storytelling efficiency. I still prefer to know that the most impactful moments mostly line up with what really happened.
In looking up the true story, I found out that Pamela Anderson doesn’t endorse this series. A series that vilifies anyone who profits off Pamela Anderson without her consent. So even though I loved the series and applaud its creative accomplishment, there’s a bitter aftertaste thinking of Pamela Anderson never getting to escape what this tape did to her.