Pam & Tommy on Disney+ review – an addictive take on consent, fame and the internet generation

Posted on 9 February 2022
By Brian James
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Pam & Tommy is a show you expect to be simply trash TV. It should have proved purely exploitative, late night, TV movie, soft core porn, b movie garbage.

It should be all those things and yet it isn’t. It is so much more than that and as such It deserves to be seen and deserves to be discussed.

Charting the chaotic events of the infamous 1995 ‘Pam & Tommy’ sex tape, a tape that not only ushered in a new age of celebrity scandal but also changed how people perceived the world wide web forever.

This new 8 part drama from Disney Plus not only delivers some outstanding performances and set pieces but also leaves its audience confused as to where their own morality lies and as to what the overall message of the show is.

The difficulty when reviewing this show is that to be fair you have to look at it as two completely different entities and try and judge both on their own merits.

There is the show itself, its direction, story, actors, script, cinematography etc, and then there’s the nature of the show and the conversation over its artistic merits versus its moral ambiguity.

It is, in many ways, a show that should not have been made. Set in California in 1995, the show follows two main story and character arcs.

Rand, a beardless and pleasingly subtle Seth Rogan, a down on his luck and broke carpenter who’s world collides with that of Tommy Lee when he is hired to renovate Tommy’s ‘love palace’, and that of Tommy and Pam themselves, played by Sebastian Stan of Marvel fame and the honestly outstanding Lily James.

He gets ripped off by Tommy, swears revenge and performs the infamous burglary in which he accidentally steals the sex tape.

We then go on his journey as he tries sell and subsequently distributes the tape to the world. Running along side this is Pam and Tommy’s whirlwind romance, their growing love for each other, their personal battles with career and fame and then the obvious fallout of the tape going public.

Nothing is hidden, nothing is left untouched , the drink, the drugs, the sex, the chaos and the damage done to all involved along the way. There are no heroes here, everyone is flawed in their own way and as such, these mega rich, mega stars come across as very human.

It’s easy to identify with all of them. Rand is desperate and hurt by all around him, clinging to the ideal of karma and ‘doing the right thing’ despite the one thing he has going for him being the proceeds of a crime and something that will morally bankrupt him.

Tommy and Pam’s relationship at first glance seems forced and designed for pure dramatic licence but is absolutely true to real events with them meeting and marrying within 96 hours, but haven’t we all had that whirlwind romance in our lives?, those moments of lust and passion in which anything seems possible?..

Now imagine you have unlimited money and opportunity and it is easy to start to understand the true reality of their particular ‘chaos’

The show plays with the audience perception of these people very well. For example, by the end of the first episode Tommy is a figure of pure hate.

His ego massively turning us, the viewer, against him, but by episode three we see him as a romantic man, seemingly deeply in love with his new wife and doing everything to support and please her.

We like him, and perhaps knowing the events in real life, we shouldn’t. The showrunner Robert Seigel manipulates our opinion of his character perfectly and within those first three hours its difficult to formulate an opinion of him.

Performances are all fantastic. Sebastian Stan is absolutely loving being Tommy, he spends most of the episodes naked or in a thong, he takes long scenes talking to his penis (which does talk back to him….. yes, this is a thing), and he seems to fully inhabit the energy and ‘mayhem’ of the real Tommy.

Seth Rogan actually gets to do some real acting in this as well with a character that if played wrong could easily be seen as weak and pathetic. Rogan brings out the humanity of Rand perfectly and you do find yourself routing for him despite his flaws.

But the star of this is quite simply Lily James as Pamela Anderson. She is outstanding. Practically unrecognisable (no Downton Abbey in sight) in fake hair, nails, boobs and tan she gives a beautiful performance as the star of this sordid tale.

Her Pammy is a troubled soul. Trapped in a life of fame and wealth but all the while knowing that she is seen as a commodity to those around her, to be stripped down and paraded when needed to sell TV shows or products.

Pam’s dreams of being respected as an actor, having a family, being loved seemingly a lot less important as her being the ‘sex symbol’ that everybody needs her to be. James brings this side of Pamela out perfectly and it’s heart-breaking to see this young woman so at odds with herself.

Touching on the character of Pam brings us to the second half of this review and as to what I believe will become the main talking point as time goes on.

Before production began it became very clear that the real Pamela Anderson wanted nothing to do with this shows creation. She actively objected to it. Tommy, as you would expect, was all for it, but Pam said no.

Despite this, Disney commissioned an 8 episode series and this objection was ignored. So what we have here is a TV show about a young woman losing her right to privacy, control of her own body, her most intimate moments stolen for public gratification and any idea of her consent being ignored, and then 27 years later the same woman, again having her rights and consent thrown out of the window by a studio who wanted, again, to sell her as a commodity.

This was a young, beautiful and intelligent woman who when she should have been at her happiest, found herself laid bare in front of the whole world. A world who, on one hand lusted after her and on the other called her a whore.

It is problematic to say the least and does leave a shadow over the show making it feel honestly a bit seedy.

Are we just supposed ignore this? Focus on the fun bits?, the sex scenes? And all the crazy crime/heist movie sections?. Are we supposed to ignore the central problem of consent and a person’s right to privacy?

As a ‘TV show its bloody great chaotic and sexy fun. Its well filmed, well scripted, fast paced, looks and sounds amazing and is blessed with an unbelievably great central performance from Lily James as Pam.

The show is addictive and I really did enjoy it despite having huge reservations about its tone or message going into it. You will like it, it’s pretty much impossible not to get something out of this show and I do recommend you watch it, if for no other reason to see it as a piece of art and enjoy Lily James’s performance.

Although the shadow of consent and privacy does hang over it and I’m guessing will be talked about for a while after, and for many people this will be too much of a problem to overlook.

‘Pam & Tommy’ has 3 episodes available now on Disney Plus and runs weekly on Wednesdays.