When I first heard about Hulu's Pam & Tommy, I expected a very different experience than the one I had. What I thought would be a run-of-the-mill docudrama about a celebrity sex tape turned out to be the one of rawest pieces of American television I've seen in a very long time. Seriously. And don't get me wrong, Hulu has gotten pretty raw before, but it was in sort of a silly, dick-jokes-for-laughs kind of way (see: Future Man).This show, however, finds a way to balance crass humor, real suspense, lots of sex and, somehow, true emotional gravitas, all while telling us a story that most people born before 1990 saw unfold in real time. This cuss-laden, nudity-filled, high energy trip back to the mid-Nineties is doing a lot more than simply retelling the infamous story of actress Pamela Anderson and rocker Tommy Lee. Pam & Tommy actually humanizes these people, and it's doing a damn good a job of it.
Pam & Tommy follows the titular mid-Nineties superstar couple's whirlwind romance as they deal with the theft and distribution of their infamous sex tape. The cast is star-studded, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Sebastian Stan playing Lee and Lily James (Darkest Hour, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies) playing Anderson. There's also Seth Rogen as Rand, the hapless carpenter who stole the tape (among other things) and put the scandal in motion, as well as Nick Offerman, Taylor Schilling, Paul Ben-Victor, Pepi Sonuga (Queens) and comedian Adam Ray, among others.
This story is truly brought to life by the stellar performances of Stan, James and Rogen. I've only known Stan for his performances as the MCU's Winter Soldier, but to see him step into Tommy's man-thong and truly embody the chaotic energy of that foul-mouthed rocker is nothing less than a trip. Same goes for James -- the way she literally transforms into Pam allows viewers to empathize with her real-life plight in a way my young mind hadn't considered or was even able to understand back when all this was happening for real. James and Stan nail the necessary chemistry that their real-life counterparts must have felt, and in doing so actually depict what was, at least until the tape came out, a surprisingly supportive and sweet relationship.
Now, what really sets this show apart is how explicit it is. I don't just mean the usual topless lady, either. I'm talking about HBO levels of full-frontal male nudity, and to take it a step further, Tommy's, uh, member, has an unforgettable scene in which it actually speaks! Let me explain.
In the second episode of the show, Pam and Tommy Lee have just met, and after an amazing couple of nights together decide to have an impromptu wedding. At some point during this process, a very naked Tommy has an entire conversation with his penis. To be specific, Tommy is so in love that he's got to break it to his junk that he'll only be with one woman ever again. His penis, who is not a fan of this idea by the way, is voiced by yet another star, the hilarious Jason Mantzoukas. Full warning, you're going to want to be mindful of who you are watching this one with, because this is probably the most screen time that I've ever seen a penis get outside of an actual porno. Plus, this penis has an undeniable personality.
Adult images and themes aside, Pam & Tommy is entertaining as all hell, and it gives me the impression that Hulu is trying to say something about the kind of content it intends to provide us with moving forward. What that exact message is isn't totally clear, especially given the wide range of genres that a powerhouse streaming service like Hulu has in its library, but regardless, a statement has been made.
The truly stunning part of all this is the level to which everyone involved seemed to commit. From the wardrobe to the hair to the facial expressions and vocal nuances and the nudity -- it's all there. Everything is interconnected; woven together in a way that directly supports the dynamics of the narrative. As told by hairstylist Barry Lee Moe in a recent issue of Variety, even fictional Pamela Lee's hair "reflected the mood that she was in." Particular attention was also paid to how impactful this scandal was, not only for Pamela Anderson on a personal level, but also for the adult entertainment industry and the internet, which was super new at the time. The internet had barely been a thing for a year or two before it was used to change how people did business in the world on a wide and permanent level. The kind of unwanted exposure that Lee and Anderson had to endure is the type of attention most people would pay for today.
To say Pam & Tommy is better than I expected would be an understatement, and there isn't a single understated thing about it. Like the scandal that it's centered around, it's an intimate, passionate, in-your-face dive into the deepest corners of this couple's existence during what was probably the most trying time of both their lives. This is unadulterated, grown up entertainment at its best. I've never been so happy to have my big boy pants on.
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