The salacious, tumultuous marriage between Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee possessed all the fascinating qualities that instantly turned it into highly publicized tabloid fodder in the mid-1990s. Like many of the other major pop culture events of the decade, the public is nostalgically embracing the rise and fall of the union between the Baywatch actress and Mötley Crüe drummer. The woes of the former couple’s marriage is chronicled in Hulu’s surprisingly sentimental, emotional and engaging eight-episode mini-series, Pam & Tommy.
The upcoming biographical show was written by its showrunner, Robert D. Siegel, who garnered fame in part for penning the Academy Award-nominated 2008 drama, The Wrestler. The romantic series was directed by Craig Gillespie, who has previous experience helming another biographical project that focuses on a celebrity scandal from the ’90s, I, Tonya.
Pam & Tommy follows the fall from grace that the two titual American entertainers were forced to contend with after the release of their now infamous sex tape. The story begins with Rand Gautier (Seth Rogen), a contractor who’s bored with life and has few goals for his future, despite being burdened with debt. But he does have one strong belief: that karma will reward him for what he believes is all his hard work.
After he’s fired by Lee (Sebastian Stan, who previously worked with Gillespie when he played Tonya Harding’s ex-husand, Jeff Gillooly in I, Tonya), Gautier sets out to steal the contents from the musician’s safe. During the heist, he finds the now-infamous video tape that features the sexual encounter between Lee and Anderson (Lily James).
Gautier decides to publicly release the sex tape, as retribution for Lee firing him, and a way to profit off of Anderson’s body. So Gautier brings the tape to one of his friends, pornography producer Michael Morrison (Nick Offerman), who helps him distribute the tape. While the tape quickly became a pop culture phenomeon, Gautier eventually realizes that its success will never change who he is.
Siegel crafted an overall alluringly provocative storyline throughout the entirey of Pam & Tommy. The eight episodes’ core theme smartly emphasizes how quickly people’s lives can drastically change forever because of one rash decision that was driven by revenge.
The show’s through line of how retaliation drastically affects people’s lives is most powerfully highlighted in James’ soulful portrayal of Anderson as a wife and Hollywood actress who’s exploited for her appearance. While James is at times liberal in her portrayal and impression of the Baywatch star’s mannerisms, her overall personification of Anderson’s signature blonde hair and lipliner make-up is truly memerizing. With the aid of the series’ skilled hair and make-up departments, James becomes unrecognizable as she delves into her performance.
Besides James’ stunning physical transformation into her portrayal of Anderson, the SAG Award-winning star of Downton Abbey fearlessly emphasized how the Playboy model became vulnerable in her personal relationships. Those emotions were relatably present when she and Lee eventually divorced three years after the tape’s distribution.
James also powerfully highlighted how Anderson was devastated by the film and television industry’s treatment of her following the release of the sex tape. Anderson hoped to move on to more serious roles after leaving Baywatch in 1997. However, the tape’s distribution ultimately became one of her most high-profile screen apperances, during a time when the internet was in its infancy and such tapes weren’t commonplace. As a result, her career was ultimately halted, instead of launched, as later seen with socialites in the 2000s.
Since Anderson was eager to be taken seriously as an actress during her five-year tenure on Baywatch, her loss of control over her career trajectory unleashed her rage and sadness. Her anger is amplified even more by the fact that Lee didn’t face as much public humiliation and career decline as she did after the tape’s release. Pam & Tommy‘s characterizations of the differences that Anderson and Lee faced is a powerful reminder that while the public was initially intrigued by their sex tape scandal, it eventually helped pave the way to how society now talks about women and their rights.
Through Siegel’s sympathetic, considerate writing and James’ stellar intrepration of Anderson’s physicality and emotions, Pam & Tommy proves that a biographical series about one infamous part of a former celebrity couple’s relationship doesn’t have to be sensationalized. Instead, the black comedy is a passionate examination into poignant love and the double standards that still accompany it in modern American society, over a quarer of a century after the release of the titular couple’s sex tape.
Hulu will premiere the first three episodes of Pam & Tommy today, February 2, and subsequently debut the remaining five episodes on a weekly basis.
Here’s the trailer of the series.