Pam & Tommy TV Review

PLOT: Set in the Wild West early days of the Internet, Pam & Tommy is based on the incredible true story of the Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) sex tape. Stolen from the couple’s home by a disgruntled contractor (Seth Rogen), the video went from underground bootleg-VHS curiosity to full-blown global sensation when it hit the web in 1997. A love story, crime caper and cautionary tale rolled into one, the eight-part original limited series explores the intersection of privacy, technology and celebrity, tracing the origins of our current Reality TV Era to a stolen tape seen by millions but meant to have an audience of just two.

REVIEW: Anyone who grew up in the 1990s knew, at least tangentially, about Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s infamous sex tape. Some of you probably watched it, but most of you at least heard that it existed. It seems foreign now in 2022 to think of a time when celebrity sex tapes were taboo, but the saga at the center of Pam & Tommy is a fascinating one ripe with larger-than-life characters who changed the face of pornography and the lives of Hollywood celebrities forever. Hulu’s mini-series is a fun and intriguing look at how everything unfolded behind the scenes and, while it is darkly funny with some solid performances, it falls just short of being as good as it should have been.

Pam & Tommy opens with an episode centered on Seth Rogen’s character, Rand Gauthier. Working as a carpenter at the home of Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan), Gauthier is financially stretched and stressed out by the Motley Crue drummer’s incessant demands and diva behavior. When he is unceremoniously fired, Gauthier concocts a plan to rob his former employer which leads to the discovery of the private sex tape. From there, before all hell breaks loose, the series shifts to a flashback showing the courtship of the musician and the bombshell Pamela Anderson (Lily James) before diving into the media blitz and legal fallout that the tape brought down on everyone involved. With solid supporting roles from Nick Offerman, Andrew Dice Clay, and Taylor Schilling, this series has some significant ups and downs in its execution while maintaining a sensational story at its core.

Directed by Craig Gillespie, Pam & Tommy shares a lot of visual similarities with his acclaimed film I, Tonya and AppleTV+ series Physical. Gillespie is adept at channeling the pop culture hallmarks of the 1990s while keeping the references subtle enough that they don’t overpower the story. Rogen, who produced and developed the series with longtime creative partner Evan Goldberg, delivers one of his most subdued performances while allowing those around him to take things up a notch. Written by Robert Siegel (The Founder, The Wrestler), Pam & Tommy is funny, but not in a laugh-out-loud way and yet not serious enough to be taken as a drama series. The entire production shifts between different tones and that make the finished product miss the mark ever so slightly.

pam and Tommy review

What works the best in Pam & Tommy is the performance from Lily James. Already having landed big roles in films like Disney’s Cinderella and Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, James gives what may be the performance of her career as Pamela Anderson. When the first photos of James in costume leaked last year, I was blown away by the physical transformation into the Playboy playmate and Baywatch icon, but it is the depth of James’ performance here that is stunning. Rather than play Anderson as a ditzy airhead, James gives the actress dimension by showing Anderson’s naivete in equal measure with her business and social acumen. In short, she plays Pamela Anderson as a real person who would be crushed by the onslaught of having her most personal side unveiled to the public.

Seth Rogen is equally good as the man who opened Pandora’s box. Rand Gauthier could have been portrayed as a terrible human being but flashbacks illustrate his own traumatic upbringing and how Tommy Lee’s behavior forced his hand, even if it crossed legal boundaries. Rogen traded in his larger-than-life laugh and beard to play this character and in doing so may have found an awards-worthy role. Nick Offerman is also good as porn icon Uncle Miltie who helped Rand release the sex tape and, in doing so, became legally culpable. The weakest part of this cast, I hate to say, is Sebastian Stan. Tommy Lee comes off as a two-dimensional portrayal of a rock star and often plays second fiddle to James as Anderson. I never quite bought into Stan’s performance which ends up feeling generic compared to everyone else’s work here.

Pam & Tommy has more than enough material to fill its eight episodes which shift between the contemporary timeline of events with supporting flashbacks. Just like the movie at the center of this series, Pam & Tommy is chock full of sex which means you can expect each episode to be full of nudity as well as a unique portrayal of Tommy Lee’s penis. I had a lot of fun with this series which is far more respectful of the people it portrays than I expected, which is both a blessing and a curse. No one comes through this series unscathed, but it still feels a bit too neat for its own good. Pam & Tommy is a solid true crime story that rivals the most recent seasons of Ryan Murphy’s true crime anthology. While it is not as nuanced as I would have liked, this is a solidly entertaining portrait of the pitfalls of celebrity and worth watching for Lily James’ amazing performance alone.

Pam & Tommy premieres on February 2nd on Hulu.

Pam & Tommy




About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.