Hulu’s eight-part miniseries “Pam & Tommy” tells the story of the internet’s very first sex tape scandal, in which a home movie made by Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee is stolen, sold and leaked for millions to see. The show focuses primarily on the exploitation and over-sexualization of Anderson (Lily James, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”), but a complete lack of self-awareness from the show’s writers and producers has produced a rather tasteless and tone-deaf show that serves only to open old wounds and continue the cycle of Anderson’s seemingly endless exploitation by popular media.
From the very first episode, it was clear that this show’s perspective on this era-defining scandal was going to be questionable at best. The entire pilot episode is dedicated to the reprehensible actions of Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen, “Invincible”), the man responsible for stealing and selling the sex tape that would come to define Anderson’s entire life and career. Rather than painting Gauthier in the unflattering light that he deserves, the show delivers him a complete redemption arc on a silver platter, characterizing him as an overworked and underprivileged servant to the stars, reaffirmed by his desire for karmic punishment in the form of an invasion into Anderson and Lee’s private lives. Gauthier and his mission to wage war against the couple is the focus of the first three episodes of the installment, and while the show does not go so far as to justify his actions, the depiction of Gauthier’s character is far from the villain that viewers expected.
If you can set aside the first three disconcerting episodes, what follows is thrilling — a whirlwind of ’90s nostalgia, filled to the brim with iconic imagery and iconography, a raunchy and passionate romance and an unbelievable transformation of James and Sebastian Stan (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) into Hollywood’s “it” couple. If this were any other story, I could label it a fun watch and call it a day — but the reality is that the lack of respect and consent in a show about consent is perturbing and upsetting, to say the least. It’s likely to leave a bad taste in your mouth. In an emotional scene that’s been redistributed on many media sites for the show’s promotion, Anderson discovers her male coworkers watching a stolen video of her most intimate and private moments with her boyfriend. The heartbreak on James’s face as she realizes the tape has been stolen and leaked is disturbing, and even more so when you realize that this very show is invading Anderson’s private life in almost exactly the same way.
The fact of the matter is, Anderson never asked anyone for this show. In fact, numerous interviews and sources have profusely repeated that Anderson is against the whole project, declining numerous times to participate or respond to any attempts on the show’s behalf to reach out. A source states firmly that Anderson will absolutely never see the show, “not even the trailer.” To gain access to the story without Anderson’s consent, writers and producers took a roundabout back route to circumvent the discontent on the literal star of their production, obtaining rights to a 2014 Rolling Stone article that details the true story of the tape’s theft and distribution. Knowing all this, doesn’t a show that so clearly takes the side of Anderson in her fight against society seem a little bit hypocritical?
Many choices on the part of “Pam & Tommy” are questionable, undoubtedly, though it’s not for lack of trying to produce a piece of pro-Pam Anderson media. The show, for the most part, is firmly on the side of Anderson as a victim, and James’s portrayal is perfect. From moments of euphoria to heartbreak, her range of emotions is chilling, and her on-screen chemistry with Stan as Lee is palpable. It’s disappointing that their talent in these roles is wasted on such an exploitative production. While I understand that TV projects can’t always follow the wishes of everyone involved, the obvious contrast between the show’s themes and the actions of its producers undercut the deeper meaning and cause the whole show to fall flat. Ultimately, there’s not a single moment in the show that can escape the shadow of Anderson’s unwilling and unwitting participation in her continual victimization for the sake of media capital.
Daily Arts Writer Annabel Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.