As a child of the 90s, it was virtually impossible to not hear word of a mysterious and legendary sex tape that took the world by storm. Hulu’s new miniseries, Pam & Tommy, sheds some light on virtually all facets of this tape—the tender filming, born out of love then sealed inside a safe; the snatching of said tape by a disgruntled former employee hungry for revenge; the impact on the budding early days of the internet just before a boom of online porn and webcams would sweep the nation; and the media frenzy that was born as the tape spread far and wide. On a surface level, it may appear there is not much story here to tell. Fueled by a 90s soundtrack (Fatboy Slim! La Boucher!), stunning attention to detail, and incredible performances from Lily James, Sebastian Stan, and Seth Rogen, Pam & Tommy proves that the love story between Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson is truly timeless.
Roll back the tape to 1995, when Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee commissions the construction of a constantly-changing new wing in his home. Working for Lee may not be as simple as enduring the deafening sounds of his lovemaking. Tommy is constantly changing his mind about the specifics of the room, resulting in Rand (Rogen) to dig deeper and deeper into his own pockets. To make matters worse, Tommy refuses to pay Rand or Lonnie (Larry Brown) until the work is completely done, despite initially saying otherwise. Rand is past due on multiple bills, and cannot afford to function without receiving funds. Putting his foot down seems to be the wrong choice, as Tommy demeans their work and kicks them out, refusing to pay either Rand or Lonnie. Despite owing them both thousands of dollars, Tommy fires them unceremoniously. Rand cannot even pick up his tools in peace without being held at shotgun point. Wronged and understandably upset, Rand devises a plan to steal Tommy’s prized safe, armed with the knowledge that it contains unforeseen riches.
All of this begins to unfold in merely the first episode. While it initially may seem that starting the story from Rand’s point of view is a mistake, Pam & Tommy knows what it’s doing. The viewpoint of Rand is essential to understanding his motivations, and the eventual widespread nature of the sex tape leak. Diving headfirst into the realities of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee is instead reserved for subsequent episodes. Rand, as played by Seth Rogen, is a key player in the whole scandal. Sporting a trademark 90s mullet, Rogen’s character fits comfortably somewhere between pathetically endearing and just plain pathetic. Orange is the New Black lead Taylor Schilling plays Rand’s ex Erica, who is still being strung along waiting for divorce papers to be signed.
Sebastian Stan as Tommy Lee is a stroke of genius. He has the mannerisms and characterizations down to a science. From his shirtless entrance in the first episode, Tommy Lee comes off as a total bro without a care in the world. With the sales of millions of albums under his belt and a sparkling-new wife, as the viewer watches his character form over the course of the series, he becomes fully realized. Instead of the villainous leech that Rand once viewed him as, Tommy Lee comes across as an immature person who falls deeply in love with someone he only just met. Even his penis is likable; I was worried that Pam & Tommy would skimp out on the nudity, but rest assured, it utilizes every strength. How can one miss out on the personification of Tommy’s dick literally having a back-and-forth conversation with Tommy about love, of all things?
Pamela Anderson, on the other hand, is played by the lovely and sweet Lily James. I absolutely adored James in 2015’s Cinderella, but she was virtually unrecognizable for me here. The script makes one feel for Pamela the most out of any of the other characters. She never asked for porn fame—Anderson was just trying to fight for her minuscule number of lines on Baywatch! I loved the background that we eventually get about Anderson’s modeling career, as well as her adoration of old movie musicals. She seems to be a genuine and thoughtful person, especially within the context of the story. A heartbreaking deposition sequence allows James to inject Anderson with fiery passion.
Individually, James and Stan are fantastic, but it is together that the duo are at their strongest. This show makes one believe in their whirlwind love for one another, building an on-paper romance into a living and breathing tale of love at first sight. Going all the way back to the beginning, on the very night they met, one gets a sense that there was always something there. Tommy was a promising window out of the stuffy monotony of Pamela’s celebrity lifestyle. He reveled in fun and excess, and in a way, they almost rescued one another. Each have different reactions to the eventual leaking of their nude tape; Pamela feels violated, but Tommy is just angry.
Running a briskly-paced eight episodes, Pam & Tommy manages to maintain momentum by jumping back and forth in time. As the blanks are filled in for the viewer, I cannot stress the amount of times I consulted Google just to fact-check the accuracy of this Hulu dramedy. The tone juggles dark drama with light comedy easily, imbuing even the smallest roles with verve. Uncle Miltie and Seth Warshavsky (Nick Offerman and Fred Hechinger, respectively) were two of my favorite supporting roles in the series. I honestly did not want it to end, and once I began approaching the final stretch of episodes, I kept waiting for things to fizzle out entirely. Instead, a surprisingly potent commentary on technology, privacy, and celebrity emerges from out of the woodwork. 2022 may have just started, but Pam & Tommy is already one of the best shows of the year.
Pam & Tommy gives new meaning to leaked nudes when it debuts exclusively on Hulu on February 2nd.