Pam & Tommy review: Entertaining dash through a Nineties cause célèbre

This eight-part series tells the story of the first viral video from a post-MeToo perspective, with mixed results

Pamela Anderson, Tommy Lee

1/27/2022 11:17:00 PM

This eight-part series tells the story of the first viral video from a post-MeToo perspective, with mixed results

This eight-part series tells the story of the first viral video from a post-MeToo perspective, with mixed results

/HULUPetulant and quick to anger, Tommy makes a frankly terrible boss, and his unceremonious dismissal of Rand when he starts to ask some reasonable questions about the practicalities of installing a water bed (between this and Licorice Pizza, water beds are clearly having a moment) prompts the carpenter to embark on a revenge plot that he sees as karmic. He mounts an undercover surveillance campaign on the couple’s mansion from a fake removal van with “Paybach” written on the side before breaking in, dressed as their fluffy dog to conceal his identity from their security cameras. When he discovers a video tape marked with a rainbow sticker in the safe he manages to abscond with, he reckons it could be the solution to at least some of his financial woes - especially if he harnesses the as-yet-untapped potential of the world wide web to revolutionise his distribution model.

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The series charts the couple’s whirlwind romance and marriage in Cancun / HULU Petulant and quick to anger, Tommy makes a frankly terrible boss, and his unceremonious dismissal of Rand when he starts to ask some reasonable questions about the practicalities of installing a water bed (between this and Licorice Pizza, water beds are clearly having a moment) prompts the carpenter to embark on a revenge plot that he sees as karmic. He mounts an undercover surveillance campaign on the couple’s mansion from a fake removal van with “Paybach” written on the side before breaking in, dressed as their fluffy dog to conceal his identity from their security cameras. When he discovers a video tape marked with a rainbow sticker in the safe he manages to abscond with, he reckons it could be the solution to at least some of his financial woes - especially if he harnesses the as-yet-untapped potential of the world wide web to revolutionise his distribution model. In the second episode, we’re thrown a few months back in time to the start of Pam and Tommy’s relationship. She’s Baywatch’s golden girl, he’s a rock star whose music career is becoming a case of diminishing returns as grunge supersedes hair metal. Both are portrayed with a sweetness and lack of guile that makes them easy to root for. The prosthetics, hairstyles and costuming have been executed so expertly as to help each performer disappear convincingly into the role (indeed, in one flashback episode that transports us to the early days of Pamela’s modelling career, it’s much more distracting to see James looking like herself). It’s an impressive transformation / HULU At first, the tape is the preserve of whispered conversations, an urban myth - it’s fascinating to see how long it took for its existence to permeate the mainstream, even when it was easily available to purchase online. Indeed, the celebrity culture of the time moves at a remarkably sedate pace; in some respects, it’s incredibly prim, too. One LA Times reporter attempts to pitch the story of the tape’s theft to her senior editor and is brushed off, told that a celebrity sex scandal is not remotely newsworthy for a reputable title. The era’s regressive sexual politics become especially obvious when the couple attempt to pre-emptively sue the publisher of Penthouse, after learning that he is planning to feature stills from the tape in his magazine. Only Pamela is called to give a deposition beforehand, and the defence lawyer tells her that “posing naked for the camera is a sex act” before she is forced to watch the tape in front of a room full of male attorneys, to verify it is her who appears on camera. It makes for painful viewing and it seems, as James’ character puts it, that she has “no rights because I’ve lived my public life in a bathing suit.” In scenes like these, James hums with frustration at the obvious double standards at play - and at the fact that Pamela’s husband can’t seem to understand that the stakes are higher for her, not because, as he angrily suggests, she has the starrier career, but because she’s a woman. Taylor Schilling’s character, left, gets saddled with some expository dialogue / HULU These moments are far more effective when they don’t obviously strain under the weight of underlining the show’s thesis: as Rand’s estranged wife Erica,