Pam & Tommy (2022)
The familiar voice of Jay Leno crackles into clarity, delivering tired innuendos regarding his guest’s sex life. In an undisclosed living room, a television set broadcasts Pamela Anderson’s increasing discomfort. “Speaking of sex” the comedian continues in the search of cheap laughs “I have to ask about the tape... What’s it like having that kind of exposure?”. Smirking at the cleverness of his double entendre, Leno revels in the laughter of his studio audience. The camera focuses on Anderson as she tries to hide the pain etched on her face. It is then we acknowledge the collective guilt we share in the realisation that the undisclosed living room could very well be our own.
Not that Anderson receives much exposure in this series’ first episode, reduced to cries of ecstasy emanating from the upstairs bedroom. When he’s not joining in the chorus, husband Tommy Lee ventures downstairs to make the life of carpenter Rand Gauthier a living hell. Frequently changing designs for his remodelled love-nest, Lee eventually fires Gauthier, refuses payment and (to add insult to injury) keeps his work tools. Gauthier's revenge is to steal Lee’s safe containing jewellery, cash, guns and, unbeknownst to him, a certain tape of the celebrity couple in the throes of passion.
When news of this biopic first reached our desk, we immediately flagged it is a potential BOSUD (biopic of someone undeserving). Doubtless, the series is peopled with unsavoury types. The only claim to fame Gauthier enjoys is being the guy who stole the tape, while pornographers Uncle Miltie and Seth Warshavsky profited from other people’s misfortune. Even Tommy Lee, one of the victims in this saga, is portrayed as singularly loathsome. The only person worthy of compassion appears to be Anderson, though the earlier episodes lend credence to her publicist’s warning that “If he is a train-wreck then you are a train-wreck by association”. Yet by the time we return to 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' in Episode Seven, the biopic has clearly demonstrated that this was a crime perpetrated on someone undeserving.
Lily James’ empathetic portrayal of Pamela Anderson grounds this comedy of errors. As distribution of the tape spirals out of control, from mail-order to Penthouse Magazine and finally the internet, James reminds us that there were consequences to what was, at the time, treated as a bit of naughty fun. This light-heartedness is echoed by the tenor of the series’ first half, underscored by the casting of Seth Rogen, an eclectic but intrusive soundtrack and the appearance of a talking penis. This joviality starts to subside at the point that Lee stops being portrayed as a mere caricature. By Episode Eight Sebastian Stan has somehow managed to make him likable.
Then the end credits reveal he’s just a huge dick after all.
as Pamela Anderson
as Tommy Lee
as Dick Gautier
as Erica Boyer
Pam and Tommy actually met on New Year’s Eve, not on her birthday.
Rand Gauthier was an electrician, not a carpenter.
Pamela Anderson Lee suffered her miscarriage BEFORE the sex tape was stolen
Though Lily James stated that many scene recreations of Barb Wire were filmed, only a few seconds of footage actually appears.