By Sarah Osman
What is the most depressing thing about Pam & Tommy? The series provides the most sympathetic portrait of Pam Anderson that is out there.
At one point during the Hulu miniseries Pam & Tommy, Pamela Anderson (Lily James) reminds her husband, Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan), what the release of their intimate sex tape will mean to her: “Everyone will think you’re cool. They’ll think I’m a slut.” Thus the show acknowledges that society’s double standards continue to punish women. It’s clear that showrunners Robert Siegel and D.V. DeVincentis, as well as lead director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya), are committed to critiquing patriarchal views of women: they clearly sympathize with Anderson’s plight. But the truth is that they did not receive Anderson’s blessing for this series, and admit that Anderson feels that the series is forcing her to relive a brutal part of her life. So, let’s say it is debatable that the series gives Anderson the agency that the showrunners claim it does. It could be argued that Pam & Tommy is just as exploitative of the star as those who released the notorious tape.
The series is based on a 2014 Rolling Stone article about Rand Gauthier, the disgruntled construction worker who released the infamous tape. Weirdly, the series seems to sympathize more with Gauthier (Seth Rogen) than with people who were actually harmed. The first episode centers mostly around the worker, who is hired by Lee to renovate his home. When the musician keeps changing his mind about what he wants, Gauthier protests about the rising costs; in response, Lee promptly fires him. This depiction of the pair’s construction deal doesn’t add up. Wouldn’t there have been a signed contract regarding payment? Why didn’t Lee pay upfront for the renovations? It is difficult to feel much, if any, sympathy for Gauthier, who is clueless about how his own business works — he is completely rattled when Lee yells at him. Gauthier considers suing, but thinks again after his business partner reminds him that Lee has too many high-priced lawyers.
Gauthier decides to get revenge, so he breaks into Lee’s home and steals a safe, which contains cash, jewelry, guns, and the tape. He shows the racy footage to Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman), who agrees that it is valuable. But porn distributors won’t agree to release the tape because they don’t have Lee and Anderson’s permission. So Gauthier turns to the wild wild web. The series spends a surprising amount of time delving into the frightening dearth of legal restrictions on the internet (an anarchy still prevalent today). There is also time spent going into how the internet transformed pornography. This in itself is an interesting story, but one that would be best suited for a serious documentary, geared to handling sensitive subject matter. It doesn’t work in a seamy tell-all melodrama.
This isn’t to say Pam & Tommy doesn’t supply some strong dramatic moments. James is phenomenal as Anderson, skillfully capturing her various behavioral quirks, and Stan is equally as strong as Lee. Somehow the performer manages to portray the rocker as being less than a complete asshole. The two protagonists have some endearing interactions, such as in the second episode when they rush into a beach wedding after only four days of knowing each other. However, even these charming segments are shrouded by a dark truth. Lee was abusive to Anderson, a fact that is glossed over in the last episode.
As good as the performers are, I couldn’t get over the icky chill that ran through me as I watched the series. Anderson isn’t at the center of her own story. This is a part of her life she had no wish to revisit — or have publicly revisited — so why is it being recycled? Of course, the answer is money, which is what led to her being manipulated in the first place. What is the most depressing thing about Pam & Tommy? It provides the most sympathetic portrait of Anderson that is out there. She has proven that she is more than just her body, but she is still being treated as a silly little bimbo. Anderson was a sexpot and an intelligent woman who deserves respect. The series tries to deliver that message, but ends up abusing her one more time.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman