“Pam & Tommy” is a good show — but it never should have been made.
The Hulu limited series details the real-life scandal of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s stolen sex tape in the 90s, also imagining the effect this had on the couple’s marriage and Anderson herself. I take care to use the word “imagining” because, notably, the show was produced without Anderson’s consent, despite both celebrities still being very much alive, and despite the show’s delicate content.
“Pam & Tommy” explicitly promotes a narrative condemning the exploitation of women’s bodies. In fact, this is the show’s central point: documenting the exploitation of Pamela Anderson’s body as her sex tape was stolen and subsequently distributed online, enabling millions of unwelcome viewers to help themselves to an intimate video solely intended for the eyes of Anderson and her husband, as created on their honeymoon.
However, even as the series claims to stand for victims of leaked porn and the emotional trauma it wreaks, the show does exactly what it warns against by again exploiting the story, and body, of Pamela Anderson, in order to turn a profit.
And, as Anderson is still living, she has to relive this painful experience all over again — whereas her now ex-husband Tommy Lee purportedly never felt as negatively affected by the sex tape, and even gave his unsolicited approval of the miniseries, Anderson feels quite differently. In fact, a source stated that Anderson felt “violated” by the release of the TV show without her approval, and she found its contents “painful.” Furthermore, Anderson appeared to be so outraged by “Pam & Tommy” that she now plans to release a Netflix documentary about her life to “tell the real story.”
Even worse is the fact that “Pam & Tommy” is actually an objectively good show.
Though I’m definitely familiar with Pamela Anderson as the actress from “Baywatch,” I had never heard of the sex tape fiasco prior to watching “Pam & Tommy.” So, at first, I was a bit skeptical of how one leaked video could supply enough content for an entire miniseries — it seemed like such an event would be better condensed into movie format.
However, I was wrong: I found the show to be utterly enthralling from start to finish due to the admitted creativity of the show runners. Lily James’ makeup and prosthetic team did an excellent job; in no way did her appearance feel too forced, cheap or exaggerated, as is often the risk when portraying a well-known icon. Instead, James looked like she emerged straight out of the 90s, at least paying decent visual homage to Pamela Anderson. Sebastian Stan’s portrayal of Tommy Lee looked a little less believable with a fake-looking goatee, but his enthusiastic mannerisms genuinely sold the smitten rock star role he sought to fill.
In fact, this was my favorite part of “Pam & Tommy” — the love story. I bought the whirlwind romance wholeheartedly; both James and Stan made it look so earnest (regardless of how true-to-life it was, as Lee was arrested for spousal abuse, followed by the couple’s divorce).
At the time of watching “Pam & Tommy,” I was not aware of Anderson’s reaction to the show’s creation. But even without this knowledge, watching the show began to make me feel icky due to its blatant hypocrisy.
Thanks to makeup and prosthetics, Lily James looks exactly like Pamela Anderson in the 90s, and Sebastian Stan looks remarkably similar to Tommy Lee (I remember my mom thinking “Pam & Tommy” was a documentary because she could have sworn that the Hulu picture of James and Stan was an actual photo of Anderson and Lee). The actors’ striking resemblance to those they portray is, on one hand, incredibly cool to watch. That said, while it undoubtedly makes their performance feel more real, this can only make it feel all the more painful for those it depicts.
The show emphasizes the immense emotional stress placed on Anderson as she deals with the thought of her body engaging in a most intimate act displayed across millions of greasy computer screens. Additionally, it documents the sexist treatment Anderson receives from legal teams, journalists, late night talk hosts (the Jay Leno interview is truly skeevy to watch), the public and her own husband. Even still, outrageously, “Pam & Tommy” dares to simulate Anderson and Lee having sex.
This means that, across millions of greasy monitors, people can yet again watch the exploitation of Anderson’s body at their leisure, without her consent, and with eerily similar body doubles carrying out the act. “Pam & Tommy” stops short of re-enacting the actual sex tape, as if this somehow rectifies releasing what is akin to a glorified sex tape of Pamela Anderson again without her consent, forcing her to relive something she finds “painful” so that she once more feels “violated.”
Whenever there is a victim involved in the narrative, and they are still alive, the proper consent should be obtained to maintain some semblance of an ethical code. Otherwise, the show’s creators are simply subjecting the victim to another round of unwanted publicity, reminding them of their painful experiences and exploiting this pain for money and clout.
Rorye Jones PO ’23 finally got around to finishing “Titanic” and can now reasonably call herself TSL’s TV and film columnist. Yes, she did cry (mainly for the violinists).