Star Rating:

Pam & Tommy 18

Streaming On: Watch Pam & Tommy on Disney+

Actors: Lily James, Sebastian Stan, Seth Rogen, Taylor Schilling, Nick Offerman

Release Date: Wednesday 2nd February 2022

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Drama

Running time: 480 minutes

Throughout 'Pam & Tommy', the sharp dissonance between male and female perspectives is something that works for it and against it.

In a scene during the latter part of the miniseries, Taylor Schilling's working actress describes how the sex tape that forms the focus of the whole series is shot so differently from the porn she works in. Parts of the sex tape are filmed by Pamela Anderson, and at one key moment, the camera - operated by her - goes to Tommy Lee's face and not where it normally would in porn. Schilling's character is enamoured by how unique that is, how it's ultimately more sensual and invigorating, yet Seth Rogen's dipshit bozo can't see it because he's too focused on the money shot that's never seen.

In a way, that's 'Pam & Tommy' in a nutshell. It's trying to reconcile two completely different points of view, but never quite accurately portraying either of them. Another example is when Tommy Lee's penis - voiced by Jason Mantzoukas - comes to life (no pun intended) and begins doling out advice that he refuses to listen to. In the same episode, Pamela Anderson is completely besotted by Tommy Lee and the whirlwind romance is desperately sweet and almost innocent. Then follows an extended scene after they're married that has them having wild sex with each other. Another episode, titled 'Jane Fonda', explains how Pamela Anderson wants to see herself in the world and uses the aforementioned actress as her role model. Fonda did 'Barbarella', became a sex symbol, went off and did stuff like 'The China Syndrome', protested against Vietnam, then made workout videos. If she can do it, why can't she?

Yet, while 'Pam & Tommy' tries to examine how Pamela Anderson wanted freedom and to be taken seriously, it seems to focus in on how she wasn't. Her bathing suit on 'Baywatch' is carefully rearranged to show the maximum permissible amount of ass on television, but then later, she finds crew members on set watching a copy of her sex tape. 'Barb Wire', her ill-fated sci-fi blockbuster, is frequently gets jabbed with jokes but then almost argues that her sex tape diminished its potential. 'Pam & Tommy' frequently has these moments of broad division, where it tries to raise itself by talking openly and earnestly about consent and women's ownership of their own bodies in the media, yet it then sometimes uses it as a punchline. The opening episode, Pamela Anderson is seen just once but is then heard constantly in a state of sexual gratification that's practically comedic. Tommy Lee, meanwhile, parades around the construction of his bedroom in a thong and boots with a ridiculously large penis shoved into said thong. Later, he puts a pump-action shotgun in the face of Seth Rogen's carpenter / porn actor for trying to recover his toolbox after he refused to pay him for work completed. Oh, and he's still wearing a thong.

Over the course of eight episodes, 'Pam & Tommy' makes sharp turns in tonality and subject, the results of which could give you whiplash. You feel sorry for the central couple one moment, but then you realise how much of a dick (again, no pun intended) Tommy Lee is. Yet, just when that's clear, Lee confesses that he might be just that, but what did Pamela Anderson ever do to deserve all of the suffering? Much is made out of how consent release forms have to be obtained in order to sell the video, yet the dawn of the internet seems to nullify this until it doesn't.

'Pam & Tommy' never seems to know where it's landing from episode to episode. Some play the factual events out fast and loud but with a thin veneer, as you'd expect from the director of 'I, Tonya'. Others, like those directed by Lake Bell, are much more thoughtful and introspective, but sit in stark contrast to the rest of the series. There are big, complex issues being tackled in 'Pam & Tommy', but it sometimes seems to go skin deep. It's tabloid but then admonishes you for enjoying the tabloid spectacle. It abhors the freewheeling, cavalier nature of the internet, but how else can you watch this except on the internet?

Lily James and Sebastian Stan are able to row past the public preconceptions of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee quite easily. Both give committed performances in the title roles, and the writing in some episodes - particularly one involving a deposition - is powerful stuff. James is able to give Anderson depth and meaning, correctly pointing out that the world thinks it's entitled to see her sex tape because she has made a career out of her body and her sexuality. Sebastian Stan is able to wrestle with portraying the ego of an increasingly irrelevant celebrity who's really just a volatile man-child underneath it all. Seth Rogen is second billing to both of these, playing the role of hapless idiot who truly believes his theft of the sex tape is divine and cosmic justice. Beyond this, what 'Pam & Tommy' frequently show with its casting and choices of directors is that women are very often the voice of reason, while men are the agents of chaos.

There's a lot to unpack in 'Pam & Tommy', and there's ambition in how it tries to cover all ends of the conversation surrounding sexuality, consent, the internet, celebrity culture and so on. Given how it could have easily been turned into a lesser movie and traded away a lot of nuance for alacrity, 'Pam & Tommy' tries its best to grapple with the many competing themes and ideas, even if it doesn't always get the better of them.

'Pam & Tommy' premieres on Disney+ with three episodes from February 2nd, with the remaining five episodes streaming weekly.