Tuesday, May 24, 2022

‘Pam & Tommy’ Review: An Infamous Story With a Sobering Message

Hulu’s latest Original series, Pam & Tommy, is due to premiere on the streaming service tomorrow, February 2. Starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan, the eight-episode limited series takes a look back at the dramatic, emotional, and unbelievable events that unfolded as a result of the release of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape in the 90s.

While this isn’t the first project that has presented a challenging and layered role for James or Stan, respectively, Pam & Tommy is undoubtedly a career achievement for both. James disappears entirely from the moment she steps on screen as Pamela, not only with the help of hair, makeup, and her wardrobe, but also by adapting her voice and mannerisms to accurately reflect the woman she’s portraying. The Pam we meet in the first few episodes is fiery and fun as she gets swept off her feet in a high-speed courtship with Tommy, but in the quiet moments, there’s also a pointed emphasis on her warm, kind, and wholesome nature. Then, once the fallout of the theft of the tape begins to unravel, James holds no punches as she viscerally taps into Pam’s hurt and anger. There are many parties involved in the events that took place in Pam & Tommy, but audiences will be rooting solely for Pam when all is said and done.

Meanwhile, as James captivates with soft edges and smiles, Stan sharply veers into the frame as Tommy Lee, buzzing with frenetic and unpredictable energy. It’s no secret that Stan has range as an actor — it’s something that he has exemplified time and time again throughout different projects — but he waded through uncharted waters taking on the role of Tommy. The dyed hair and abundance of tattoos certainly helped settle Stan into character as the Mötley Crüe drummer, but it was his carefully tempered handling of Tommy Lee’s personality and moods — which careened back and forth at the drop of a dime between lovesick adoration and outbursts of anger — that drove his performance home.

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The show’s initial marketing approach doesn’t quite do the story justice, as it initially feels as if its mission is to turn the scandal into an entertaining narrative. However, there’s far more to Pam & Tommy than first meets the eye. The series isn’t without its fair share of humorous moments, some of which are downright wild (Stan has a particularly outrageous scene in which he argues with … “himself”). But the comedic moments more so serve as a diversion, nervously lulling viewers into a false sense of security before things begin to hit the fan and the show takes a serious turn.

In watching this show, it’s important to recognize that there lies a moral dilemma at the heart of it. Pam & Tommy documents the events leading up to, during, and following the release of the sex tape. Although it covers wide ground — going as far as telling the story of everyone else involved in the tape’s distribution — this is very much, at its core, a story about the horrendous and upsetting treatment of Pamela Anderson in the aftermath. The issue here is that Pamela wasn’t involved in the making of Pam & Tommy in the first place, making it incredibly hypocritical to exploit her once more by rehashing what was clearly a traumatic time in her life by way of an eight-episode television series. The only redeeming factor of all of this is the characterization of Pam throughout, which consistently paints her in a positive light and demands a show of compassion for all that she went through.

Stripped down to its foundation, Pam & Tommy is touted as a story about an appalling violation of privacy, but beyond that, the mistreatment of women in the media and across public forums and the gross commodification of their bodies in the entertainment industry. Despite the dubious nature of the show’s existence, the best-case scenario here is that viewers will look past the “entertainment” factor and not only acknowledge how disgraceful the events that took place were but also recognize that these are societal issues that continue to be actively perpetuated (albeit in different forms) to this very day.

The first three episodes of Pam & Tommy will premiere exclusively on Hulu on February 2.

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