‘Pam & Tommy’ is a nostalgic investigation into a toxic ’90s romance

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i will never forgive Pam and Tommy, the new Hulu miniseries centered on the multimedia storm sparked by Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s stolen 1995 sex tape for not letting Mötley Crüe and Third Eye Blind fight. I mean physically, fight brutally; I mean a full passage, Presenterstyle studio brawl. “Hi! Hi! Hey! Who the fuck are you guys?” Crüe drummer Tommy Lee scolds in the fifth episode. Lee, played by Sebastian “Winter Soldier” Stan as an ancient whirlwind of personal and professional decline, comes to burst into a studio room larger than the meager space allotted to his aging, restless 90s laughing stock of a band. “Third Eye Blind,” replies 3EB’s notoriously sly frontman Stephan Jenkins, with a sneer. Hahaha! YES!

More words are exchanged, most explanatory (turns out they’re on the same label) and all inaudible to the distracting sound of me salivating like a cartoon wolf tempted by a giant cartoon steak. FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT. “What the hell are they booking those ass clowns in the big room above us?” Lee thunders, rhetorically. “I guess! Sorry man!” Jenkins retaliates. I’ll renew my Hulu account for the next five years, this instant, if they let all these assholes throw their hands off for even 30 seconds. Let’s go! I don’t care that no crash like that happened in real life. (As far as we know!) C’MON! Have balls, man! Take a little something called poetic license! But unfortunately. “It doesn’t matter,” Lee mutters deflated as he storms out, and I guess it doesn’t, and I’ll be mad about it until the end of time.

This is definitely not the desired takeaway from Pam and Tommy, who is both sleazy and reprimanding, exploitative and excoriating, determined to have his cake and put Tommy Lee’s dick in it too. Sorry for that image, but this chaotic eight-episode whirlwind of a show includes a rather long scene (sorry) in which Lee argues with his penis, which is voiced by Jason Mantzoukas and shot in an eerie close-up as he ripples in the middle of the conversation. Tommy and his dick are holding court in a hotel bathroom, debating whether or not Baywatch star Pamela Anderson (played by Lily”Mama Mia! Here we go again!“James) is the girl of his dreams. Tommy wins the battle, but after the whirlwind proposal, the historically exciting honeymoon, the low-key and wholesome home video documenting that honeymoon, the wildly implausible yet real burglary robbery in that video, and the sexist stunt free resulting moronic disasters, his dick wins the war.

Pam and Tommycreated by Robert D. Siegel (screenwriter of The founder and The wrestler) and inspired by a disconcertingly meticulous 2014 rolling stone feature film by Amanda Chicago Lewis, contains a wealth of genres, tones and potential takeaways. It’s a mean heist that involves walks and flashy chats through several porn studios. It’s a gratuitous sex scene bacchanalia celebrating the trashy (but sometimes quite sweet) love affair between a goofy rock star and a grossly disrespectful TV starlet. It’s a dark investigation into this love affair Scenes from a wedding— disbandment in style once Tommy and especially Pam fall victim to — and the show is admirably unambiguous about it — a ruthless act of revenge porn. And it’s a 90s era piece where the action kicks off in 1995 with a needle drop of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” which wasn’t released until 1998, and yes, obviously, I’m angry about that too.

What is the show mainly wants to be, of course, is another high-profile Oh Geez We Did Her Dirty re-examination of an unjustly maligned cultural figure, most of whom hail from the 90s: think Lorena Bobbitt, Monica Lewinsky, Marcia Clark, the extended documentary universe by Britney Spears, Tonya Harding. (Craig Gillespie, director of Me Tonya-and Cruel!—bars Pam and TommyThe first three episodes, on Hulu now, with a weekly rollout from there.) Pamela Anderson – whom James plays as bubbly but steely, impulsive but shrewd, naively optimistic but regularly the smartest person in a room full of lewd old white people-lawyer guys-emerge, eventually, as this show’s true heroine, or at least its noblest victim. (“Bitches don’t decide what happens to their body photos,” is how she exasperatedly sums up one of her and Tommy’s many court defeats.) dour assholes fighting for screen time, and a lot of dicks too. Some of the dickishness is pretty 90s-specific, but much of it, understandably, is timeless.

The toughest of these assholes is a certain Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen), a disgruntled contractor working on an endless renovation of Pamela and Tommy’s mansion in Malibu until he is (in no particular order) bullied. , humiliated, fired, threatened at gunpoint, relieved of his tools, and dumped $19,000 by the man of the house in his underwear. Furious, Rand locks the mansion up for weeks, breaks into the middle of the night, turns Pam and Tommy over as they sleep, and steals Tommy’s safe, which contains cash, jewelry, guns, and more. fire and (Rand eventually realizes) comically rambunctious honeymoon sex. ribbon. He teams up with an extra-fat porn mogul (Nick Offerman) and begins selling mail-order copies on something called the World Wide Web. About 85% of any 90s era track, regardless of medium, consists of disbelieving people who have never heard of the internet being hilariously explained about the internet. (Although the scene where a high-powered PR agent guides Pam through an AltaVista search is oddly heartbreaking.)

Pam and Tommy are humiliated and helpless and ruined, or at least immediately she is, and finally they or they are like a unit, and this show’s most thorny and compelling moments come when she can’t quite convince him how much worse this all is for her. (The revelation, in a quick postscript, that the couple first divorced in 1998 following their arrest for felony domestic violence is saved for the final episode and obliterates most of the Pam and Tommy‘s romantic charm.) It might actually be a general weakness that a lot of this actually happened. the rolling stone piece is truly wild, and Rogen is the right guy to play an initially harmless idiotic pseudo-intellectual. (He deftly utters the phrase “I’m a bit of an amateur theologian” and also masturbates twice in the pilot’s first 25 minutes.) What makes Rogen the good guy is that he’s at least hypothetically always kind and sympathetic even if he does something horrible and toxic and unforgivable; when he meets cute, in flashback, the eccentric young woman (Taylor Schilling) who will one day be his ex-wife and she informs him that she’s a porn star, the slow bloom of dopey joy on her face is the best acting anyone has done during this entire show. (It’s Schilling’s thankless job, by the end of the series, to essentially explain foreign concepts like consent and revenge porn to her equally ruined ex-husband.)

But once Rand gets the tape, the crime-thriller aspect of the series is well overused. (He sneaks out the back door of a building to escape various thugs three times in the same episode.) Offerman is a fun bastard (“Stop smiling, it’s a fucking dungeon” is a great director line of oily porn) but it is quickly required by real-life plot developments to disappear in Amsterdam. Sebastian Stan tries very hard to channel the doofus exuberance and fury of Tommy Lee, but put it this way: he’s a better actor than Machine Gun Kelly, but Machine Gun Kelly made a better Tommy Lee. As for Pamela, Lily James brings her own boisterous exuberance and quiet dignity, but halfway through the series — her virus-spreading sex tape, her DOA movie career, her horny Baywatch the overlords preferring that she doesn’t speak at all – it’s a flipper bouncing between countless ignorant sexist wankers. Pam and Tommy works, in the Oh Geez We Did Her Dirty formula, as an eight-episode international apology, but she’s a tragic figure in a show that plays the rest of that storyline for saucy laughs. (“Don’t fucking compliment me on my dick!” Tommy yells with genuine pathos to an awestruck fan in a late-game bar, and the show knows it’s kinda funny but tragically understates how It’s funny, exactly.)

What this jumble of tones and mores leaves us with is the concrete tourism of the 1990s, of the yellow jackets-core jukebox of hits (“What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes for one of Pam’s many moments of devastation, and “Steal My Sunshine” by Len for a much happier montage of young love Except this song came out in 1999, you clods) to random wacky Clinton-era dressing (including the Game Boys, coin-operated printers, the “You Oughta Know” video, Jay Leno’s Worst Impression in the World, and a serious assault via a copy of The Celestine Prophecy). Andrew Dice Clay, playing the mob goon who initially funds the sex tape distribution system, is offered a coffee from this new joint called Starbucks but grumpily declines; no one half understands the internet, but everyone can’t help but talk about it. A great period piece should ideally offer pleasures beyond watching everyone get catastrophically wrong about everything but from “Guys, Nobody Gets Rich With A Celebrity Sex Tape” to “The Tape Will disappear and Barbed wire going to be the greatest movie in the world,” much of the dialogue is designed to make these people look stupid, or at least make you, the savvy viewer of 2022, feel intellectually and morally superior. At least we know better now. To the right? To the right?

Pam and Tommy begins as an energetic tale of debauchery and titillation that slowly and awkwardly makes you feel bad about getting by. (Sorry for the phrasing, but there’s a real montage of guys buying the sex tape and then reaching for the Kleenex and lotion.) The thesis—Pam deserved better—is noble, but she deserved better from this show, too. (Needless to say, the real Pamela Anderson refused to get involved in the production in any way.) What remains, for me anyway, are the more niche pleasures of watching a fictional Tommy Lee talk about life in the ’90s, whether he’s demanding, “What the fuck is this?” when Sleater-Kinney walks into a bar or mutters “Fuck Seattle” as he flips through a music magazine or gets mugged by guys wearing Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam t-shirts. It was simply not made for this era, which is undoubtedly a credit to the era. But it would have been a better show if he had let Tommy punch the guy from Third Eye Blind, or if he had let Pam punch practically anyone.

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