Roush Review: The Sexy Saga of ‘Pam & Tommy’ Is Colorfully Told

Lily James as Pam, Sebastian Stan as Tommy in Pam & Tommy
Erin Simkin/Hulu

Pam & Tommy

Matt's Rating: rating: 4.0 stars

Stranger than fiction: That’s the allure of any juicy docudrama, embellishing larger-than-life stories for maximum entertainment value. Hulu’s unexpectedly exhilarating eight-part Pam & Tommy does just that, taking the lurid subject matter of a purloined celebrity sex tape and expanding it into a colorful homage to the bygone 1990s—VHS and VCRs, dial-up internet, Tower Records—by way of a genuine love story and a vengeful caper gone sideways.

Lily James and Sebastian Stan are sensational as Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, the Baywatch sex kitten and volatile rock star, whose lust-at-first-sight relationship and careers hit the rocks after a graphically intimate video is stolen from their safe and marketed on a newfangled platform called a “website.” The culprit: Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen, sympathetically nebbishy), a hard-luck carpenter, amateur theologian and former porn actor with an avenging-angel complex whom Tommy foolishly stiffs in one of his fits of immature anger.

Seth Rogen as Rand, Nick Offerman as Miltie, Andrew Dice Clay as Butchie in Pam & Tommy

Kelsey McNeal/Hulu

Rand sees himself as an agent of karma and the sex tape an “instrument of justice,” but after a rollicking reenactment of the burglary, payback works both ways when Rand learns about bootlegging and how hard it is to control anything on the World Wide Web. With sleazy associates like Andrew Dice Clay (as a ruthless loan shark) and Nick Offerman (an unscrupulous porn producer), Rand was always doomed—but for Pam and Tommy, the humiliation cuts deep as the personal becomes public and their hedonistic happiness sours amid a cacophony of tabloid and late-night mockery.

At times the propulsive Pam & Tommy veers into the cartoonish, especially in one lewd interlude depicting Tommy’s druggy conversation with his own legendarily serpentine (how should we put it) endowment. Pamela’s trajectory from Playboy Playmate discovery to Marilyn Monroe wannabe in a tight red swimsuit is, thankfully, more sensitively portrayed, and James makes the most of it.

When Pamela tries to stand up to Baywatch producers who cut one of her very few substantial dialogue scenes, or auditions while pregnant for the L.A. Confidential role that won Kim Basinger an Oscar, it’s impossible not to sympathize. The poignancy is even more pronounced when she is forced to watch the tape during a soul-crushing deposition for an ill-advised lawsuit against Penthouse.

“Is that how you feel? Like you have to please people?” a publicist asks her while prepping a campaign for Anderson’s notorious big-screen bomb Barb Wire. “That’s all I do,” she answers in her forlorn whispery way.

Having only read the headlines, I never thought I cared much about Pam and Tommy. Until I saw Pam & Tommy, a late-’90s chapter of Hollywood Babylon with a bittersweet sting.

Pam & Tommy, Limited Series Premiere (first three episodes), Wednesday, February 2, Hulu