'​Pam & Tommy' Brings a Fresh Perspective to the Sex Tape Scandal

Developed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Starring Sebastian Stan, Lily James, Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman, Taylor Schilling

BY Marriska FernandesPublished Jan 28, 2022

Celebrity culture, technology and privacy took on a new meaning when Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's sex tape was leaked in the mid-'90s. Sebastian Stan and Lily James physically transform into the duo and reveal a whole new side to the story many thought they knew in the eight-episode miniseries Pam & Tommy.  

It charts the bizarre and unbelievable story of Baywatch's Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee after their private video tape is leaked. It was the first celebrity sex tape to go viral on the newly popularized internet. While many believed, and some still do, that the couple leaked it for monetary gain, Pam & Tommy shows that there is much more to the story than that.

The series starts off with Pamela (James) swearing off bad boys until Tommy Lee (Stan) comes into her life and the two embark upon a whirlwind romance. They tie the knot in Cancun and begin documenting their love and sex lives. When Tommy refuses to pay contractor Rand Gautier (Seth Rogen) for a renovation job, Rand decides to steal Tommy's safe that contains jewelry, cash and a very personal tape. He then sets off to sell the tape, along with his porn producer friend Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman). As the tape spreads, as they go about dealing with it in their own ways.

The first three episodes focus on their love story and the glitz and glam of their sex-fuelled lives, as well as the very revenge-driven Rand. However, there's a significant shift in the five episodes that follow (which were directed by women, following the first three by Craig Gillespie) as the story gets more grounded, shocking and emotional.  

Embedded in a story about celebrity, sex and the paparazzi, there's a real emotional and sad truth about double standards with how the two were treated — Pamela became vilified in the media while Tommy found more success and was hailed as an icon. There was an unfair cultural response to the scandal in the '90s, and the show doesn't shy away from showing that — Pamela repeatedly tells Tommy that the results from the leak isn't the same for him as it is for her. The impact of that media tornado is powerfully felt, and makes the audience sympathize with Pamela. On some level, the series feels like it's attempting to right a wrong of a sexist culture.

James and Stan disappear into their roles — especially James, who makes it hard to even recognize her under the makeup. The prosthetics and makeup team deserve every praise for the brilliant transformation of the duo.

Stan doesn't try to bring depth to his unsympathetic version of Tommy, and perhaps that was the idea all along. After all, Tommy didn't receive the same media treatment as did Pamela. He also served prison for spousal abuse. He seems to get the hang of "consent" regarding their private video being distributed publicly towards the end, but it feels less earned and more superficial.  

Lily James is the true standout in this. She brings depth and vulnerability to Pamela. There are many moments that James perfectly encapsulates the Canadian actress — one that stands out is when she coldly tells her lawyer that she knows why the court's decision wasn't in her favour when it came to Penthouse wanting to publish photos of her from the tape. Equipped with rage and horror, she states that she has no actual rights because she spent her public life in a bathing suit and because she had the nerve to pose for Playboy. She spits out that she knows that the ruling basically called her a "slut": "They can't actually say that sluts don't get to decide what happens to pictures of their body." It's a shocking moment, and very much true to how the legal system didn't do her justice as she lost control of her own image. 

Furthermore, Pamela is humiliated during a deposition because she chose to star in the pages of Playboy. It's an awful moment to watch the line of questioning, and James brings strength and vulnerability in this moment to capture how Pamela might have felt.

In flashbacks, we see glimpses of a small-town British Columbia girl before she became C.J. Parker, and that is often felt in James' version of Pamela throughout the second half of the series. James exceptionally shows a side of Pamela not many have seen — a young woman who hopes to become a Hollywood star like Jane Fonda, but whose acting career plummets due to the sex tape and her starring debut in 1996's Barb Wire.

The episodes that focus on Rand, and him running from those chasing him for distributing the tape, are nowhere near as entertaining as the scenes focusing on titular duo. The series is best when it highlights Pam and Tommy.

Overall, Pam & Tommy insightfully examines a very public scandal in a new way. Lily James and Sebastian Stan are incredible in their turn as the celebrity duo, with James especially delivering a standout performance. She and the show certainly attempt to bring justice to Pamela.

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