The following contains spoilers for Pam & Tommy Episodes 1-3, (Episodes 1 & 2 written by Robert Siegel, Episode 3 written by D.V. DeVincentis, and all episodes directed by Craig Gillespie)
What makes the average person so obsessed with the world of celebrities? Is it because of the lavish lifestyles that consist of million-dollar mansions and garages that house a museum worth of cars and other vehicles? Perhaps it’s the ability to travel anywhere on a whim and buy whatever your heart might desire? As children, we often play pretend where we are rich kings and queens, or famous actors and actresses living it up. When we grow older, we become enthralled by their lives and place them up on pedestals. Their popularity becomes almost equal to how the Romans and Greeks treated their gods and goddesses.
Often skipped over is how that glitz and glamor often comes with a price. There is never a moment when you are not under some sort of lens, so God forbid you’re having a bad day. People feel as though they are entitled to your life. They stand outside talk shows, conventions, hotels, and sometimes even your house in order to get any type of attention from you. If you don’t stop to sign something or to take a photo with them, then they begin to tell others that you’re a horrible person. Your diet, your behavior, and every other aspect of your existence are put up for others to remark upon.
This dark view on celebrity gets explored in Hulu’s limited series Pam & Tommy, which takes a look at the infamous lives of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, including the theft of a safe from their home that led to the leaking of a private tape taken during their honeymoon.
The show comes from the mind of Robert Siegel who has been known to do stories on people trying to live lives greater than theirs actually are. 2016’s The Founder is the story behind McDonald’s, but it’s also about how one man would stop at nothing to become somebody even if that meant destroying the lives of the two men who opened up the possibility for him. 2008’s The Wrestler focused on a man who refused to acknowledge his career as a professional wrestler was over.
There really couldn’t be a better person than Siegel to tackle the lives of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee by demonstrating their many layers. Through this limited series and even just these first three episodes, we are treated to how strangers viewed them, how the media viewed them, and how they were without any of these preconceived filters on them.
Siegel is joined by I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie whose visual style can be described as full of organized chaos. In 2021’s Cruella, he manages to capture the beauty in ’70s London fashion while also showing the craziness behind it all. His shots are full of the class that mainstream designers brought while also walking a line into the edginess that Cruella’s character wanted to bring into it. Meanwhile, I, Tonya gave the audience the impression that we were skating. There were times when a scene would flow so smoothly, with the camera twisting and doing literal turns, that it gave the impression that we were on the ice with Harding. Within that movement and flowing of each scene, there was a grittiness that was symbolic of Tonya Harding’s roots. Gillespie brought this same tone to Pam & Tommy by crafting scenes that not only captured the time of the early ’90s but also the feel of their rock star lifestyle often showcased for people.
The first episode explores the events that lead up to Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen), one of the carpenters tasked with remodeling the Lee’s house, getting his hands on the tape that would come to be one of the biggest scandals of the ’90s.
Through Rand’s eyes, Tommy Lee is always walking around in his underwear (well, a Speedo). No piece of his body has been left to the imagination. He usually hangs around by the pool with his bandmates smoking or in the garage jamming.
Everything out of Tommy feels superficial. He doesn’t care how much money is being spent by the workers he’s hired, and he doesn’t care about time being put in. Lee is spontaneous to the point he is switching his mind around on designs even though the design is almost complete. So, when Gauthier and Lonnie (Larry Brown) decide that they want their money on Tommy’s latest floor plan change upfront, he decides that they have been cheating him and lets them all go without payment.
When Gauthier isn’t working, he is at home watching porn or trying to be the savior for his wife, Erica (Taylor Schilling), who he is estranged from. This need to make himself feel important to her and her partner also seems to dictate how little he views Anderson. He never really interacts with Pam except when he was first hired and when he walks in on her in the kitchen only wearing a t-shirt. Both times he can’t stop looking at her and does so in a way that leaves you unsettled. It’s as though every time he sees her, he is instantly undressing her with his eyes. Other times, the only interaction comes from hearing her and Tommy up in their bedroom, or when they are leaving the house.
Those times are when Pam and Tommy feel almost godlike. They come off as this mighty couple that needs to give you permission to interact with them. This godly quality to their fame goes hand in hand with everyone’s fascination when they are at a party of some sort. So much so that the media often ate it up.
Craig Gillespie managed to take the look of ’90s rock videos, where there are the interesting angles and the random rave looks that are spliced between a home video look, and use it to express how Pamela and Tommy are viewed through the media. Their first meeting is in a nightclub as Anderson buys a round of shots for everyone in the building. Everything about this meet-cute screams rock star from the looks shared by the two of them to the licking of faces that, according to an interview with Anderson, actually happened. What follows is a music video to La Bouche’s “Be My Lover” with a series of shots of Pam, her friends, and Tommy drinking and partying. The entire sequence gives off vibes of ’90s film parties (think of the club sequences of Night at the Roxbury that funny enough also uses La Bouche’s song or even the club scene from Spice World).
For the majority of the ’90s, Pamela Anderson was the face of the sex symbol. Even within these episodes, we see how Gauthier and the directors of Baywatch objectify her. There’s an entire scene in Episode 3 (“Jane Fonda”) where Pamela has prepared for a big monologue that ends up getting cut. When she tries to ask why, the directors laugh her away by giving her some weak suggestion that talking would make less of an impact than just having her run someplace. Even later, they are filming a shot from behind her and the directors tell the crew to make her swimsuit have more of a wedgie, but not too much because then it would get flagged.
As gratuitous as those men were to Pamela, Pam & Tommy provide a great counter-discussion by allowing Tommy to have multiple full-frontal scenes. There is an entire sequence where he has a conversation with his penis (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas) and it is talking back to him. It happens out of nowhere and leaves you questioning what exactly is going on, but then you realize that it all surprisingly works in the strangest of ways. Tommy has become so excited over his newfound love that he just needs to share it.
After that scene, he goes to get Pam and convinces her to take a pill (I’m going to go with Ecstasy) that sets off another music video segment—this time to Nicki French’s dance cover of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”—where it cuts between Pam and Tommy exploring one another’s bodies in bed and in the bath, with them on a dance floor that suddenly becomes a metaphor for the excitement the drugs are causing their bodies to have. Their drug-induced moment of exploring one another mashed up with the vibrant world of the nightlife really comes together in such an artistic way. Their passion for one another radiates through the sequence, and it’s made even more beautiful when Tommy later explains how didn’t actually have intercourse on that trip.
The use of music in this series varies, and sometimes I wish it would be less VH1 and more HBO. Too many films and television fall into the overuse of music category, but Pam & Tommy surprisingly makes it well balanced. There are times when the music is on the nose, such as the use of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” playing as Gauthier is stalking Lee in order to plan his break-in. Other times it benefits the scene by adding an extra layer of emotions. This is what Cass Elliot’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music” does when it plays at the end of Episode 3, just as Pamela and Tommy find out that they’re expecting their first child and Gauthier and Miltie (Nick Offerman) finally begin producing copies of the tape.
Pam and Tommy’s courtship is just four days long before they decided to tie the knot. Using multiple music video segments to represent the passing of this time allows us to form an affection for these two while also getting caught up in the emotions and fun of their relationship.
Episode 2 (“I Love You, Tommy”) serves as an introduction to Pam and Tommy, but it really comes off as how they are perceived in the media. We get that they like a party and that Pamela would do whatever she’s told in order to keep her spot on Baywatch, even if that means being eye candy for a bunch of television executives for a weekend, but we get nothing on really what drives them.
The moment we finally get a real glimpse at the pair is when they are on the plane to return home. At last, they get a moment where there is no party to distract them and no drugs to have them focused on something else. Instead, they only have one another. They begin to ask questions. “What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite movie?” It’s at this point they realize that they don’t have very much in common when it comes to their taste in cinema, but when it comes to food there is at least one thing they can agree on and that’s the fact that french fries rule. (Also, if Tommy Lee’s favorite movie is still Child’s Play then I would absolutely love to see what he thinks of the recent films and series.)
Episode 1 (“Drilling and Pounding”) focused on viewing the events leading up to the discovery of the tape through the eyes of its thief, and the second episode allowed us to learn about our subjects in the way that the media has depicted them. In Episode 3, writer D.V. DeVincentis takes over and brings everything together to round out the first act of Pam & Tommy. With this episode, Sebastian Stan and especially Lily James get to shine in bringing heart to Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson.
It’s with Episode 3 that I began to fall in love with these characters and feel as though I was fully becoming invested in Pam & Tommy. Stan and James had been playing versions of these people that were heavily based on the views of outsiders and media outlets, but never who they were behind closed doors. Pam & Tommy bases itself on the 2014 Rolling Stone article “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape” by Amanda Chicago Lewis, and in this article, Lewis writes, “You will never see a celebrity flash a smile in public that is as genuine as Tommy Lee’s after he money-shots all over his wife’s chest at her request.” It’s that genuine love, pleasure, and absolute joy that needs to radiate from these two people. If Sebastian Stan and Lily James didn’t have this spark that makes you feel as though these two could spend hours being absolutely entranced by one another’s bodies then the rest of this show would fall to pieces.
There are scenes upon scenes where stories told by Anderson or Lee are reenacted. The first two episodes are full of them, but there needs to be more. This third episode allows us the look behind closed doors. We get to see their yearning to have a baby—and it’s not just Anderson’s want, Lee very much wants to become a father. He reassures her that they will have their family. His love doesn’t stop being shown from there, though; he is fully present when she needs his strength to go over her monologue for Baywatch. There is nothing more gorgeous than to see the purest of smiles Stan is able to bring after Lily’s Pam finishes the big monologue. With the smile he gives, he understands that she more than anything wants to be taken seriously as an actress and this monologue is a key part in starting that. The look of being blown away by her performance is genuine, and the squealing that comes from me watching James and Stan play off one another during these private moments could also probably power a town. They really make you forget that you’re watching a series and not a documentary.
The only time you get pulled back into the fact that this is a television series are the times we cut to Miltie and Gauthier attempting really hard to make us feel for their struggles, but honestly, they are the weakest parts of the show. No matter how much they attempted to build up any sort of sympathy for Gauthier by giving us some flashback where he peed his pants after his father locked him in the den, he lost all of it the moment he willingly decided to release a private video because he wanted Tommy (not Pamela) to see how it feels to be embarrassed. The fact never even crossed his mind that it would be unfair for her so long as he could reap its benefits.
In my eyes, the Gauthier storyline is a villain origin story that should not be glamorized. In the Rolling Stone article, he is so proud of what he did to the point that he still gloats that he was the one to have stolen the tape. The fact that it suddenly ends up involving the mafia and setting up a big underground operation just feels so left-field compared to everything occurring in the Lees’ storyline. That includes Tommy having a fun conversation with his manhood about how much he loves Pamela.
The real story here is Pamela’s, and I believe that’s being set up beautifully. Near the end of the third episode, Pam goes to see the new publicist, Gail (Mozhan Marnò) that has been assigned to her for the press on Barb Wire. It’s here Gail asks her, “What is the story you want to tell?” and we are given not only Pam’s answer but the answer to what Pam & Tommy initially wants to tell in its eight episodes. Pamela wants the freedom that she admires in Jane Fonda, who started as the girl next door, became the sex symbol, and eventually won respect because “she never tried to please anybody. She was like, you know what? I am this badass, sex bomb, antiwar, workout video selling actress, and if you got a problem with it then f*ck you.”
Pam & Tommy is a series that will have you rethinking everything you thought you knew about Pamela Anderson. This series is a love letter of respect to a woman who has been trying to get out from the shadows of a mishap that shouldn’t have punished her and did. It’s a look into how cruel society can be to one another, and how people do not realize the consequences of their actions until it’s too late.