Get ready to blast Belinda Carlisle: Disney’s hotly anticipated miniseries Pam & Tommy has landed with a pertinent message for the post-#MeToo era.
In the first episode of Disney+’s star-studded new series Pam & Tommy, disgruntled contractor Rand Gauthier, who has just been unceremoniously fired in the middle of a building job by Tommy Lee, has a conversation about karma with his workmate Lonnie.
“The righteous, they get rewarded. The wicked – they get punished,” he muses as the pair commiserate over their treatment by the rockstar, a snarling bully who owes the pair thousands of dollars for their work on his Malibu mansion.
“I hope the universe kicks that rockstar motherfucker square in his nuts,” says Lonnie bitterly.
“It will. I have full fucking faith,” replies Gauthier.
Despite the fact that Lee is as obnoxious as humanly possible, hearing those words is enough to send a shiver down your spine. Because as we now know, karma did indeed come back around. But in Gauthier’s act of retribution, one woman’s life changed forever.
There’s no getting away from it: a lot of people will be tuning in to Pam & Tommy for the sex. More specifically, the recreation of honeymoon sex featured on the private tape belonging to one of the most famous celebrity couples of the modern era, Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee. Stolen from the couple’s mansion by Gauthier after Lee refused to pay his renovation bills, the tape was subsequently leaked onto the internet – at the time, still in its infancy – and became the first ever viral celebrity video.
And the show certainly contains plenty of NSFW moments in retelling the story of the sex tape, including one memorable scene involving a hilarious talking CGI penis. Billed as “a love story, crime caper and cautionary tale rolled into one”, the hotly anticipated miniseries dramatises Anderson and Lee’s much publicised relationship, from their whirlwind romance and marriage in 1995 after only knowing each other for 96 hours, to their turbulent relationship in the wake of the scandal.
Given that eight episodes are dedicated to unravelling the saga, viewers can definitely expect to learn more about the true story behind the tabloid headlines. For starters, there’s the involvement of Gauthier in the theft of the sex tape, played by a mulleted Seth Rogen. There’s the evolution of the internet, the power of which nobody understands. And there’s the murky world of the porn and bootleg VHS industries, which play a key part in circulating “the greatest love story ever sold”.
Then there are the transformations. When the first photos of Lily James as Pamela Anderson and Sebastian Stan as Tommy Lee dropped, everyone was amazed. The likeness is truly uncanny, and happily, the acting is a revelation too. Stan is utterly brilliant as the sexed-up rockstar who can switch from being a lovestruck puppy to a shotgun-wielding villain in the blink of an eye. James, meanwhile, is pitch-perfect as the warm, fun-loving and constantly objectified actor, whose sweet smile belies a steely determination to break away from being a perennial people-pleaser.
But while the series centres on the couple, the story is really about Pamela Anderson. Despite attempts made by showrunners and Lily James to reach out to her throughout the development of the series, the actor never responded to any requests, and has had no involvement in the show.
“We particularly wanted to let Pamela Anderson know that this portrayal was very much a positive thing and that we cared a great deal about her and wanted her to know that the show loves her,” showrunner DV DeVincentis told Entertainment Weekly. “We didn’t get a response, but considering what she’s been through and the time that we were reaching out, that was understandable.”
Despite not getting a response from Anderson, showrunner Rob Siegel has said that the show is undeniably on Anderson’s side. “The show is very much on, I think if you had to name one person with whom the show’s sympathies lie, it’s Pam” he added. “We very clearly, unambiguously present them as the victims of a crime, which they were.”
James, meanwhile, also revealed to Porter that she had attempted to make contact. “I was very hopeful that we would be in touch right up until we started filming… My sole intention was to take care of the story and to play Pamela authentically.”
It’s a bold claim, of course, to try to reframe the narrative by making a show about the scandal, especially when Anderson’s permission is missing. But the first three episodes of Pam & Tommy actually do succeed in portraying Anderson in a nuanced, sympathetic light.
While the first episode is dedicated to the backstory of Gauthier and how he plotted revenge against his celebrity client, the second episode, I Love You Tommy, really makes you warm to Anderson, thanks in large part to James’ outstanding performance. After meeting Lee by chance at an LA club, we learn that Anderson is obsessively pursued by the rockstar to Cancun, Mexico, where she is attending a press conference for Baywatch. There, the pair attend a series of wild parties, fall head over heels in love, and orchestrate a shotgun wedding on the beach. Despite the very public love affair, though, it’s clear that Anderson is actually an intensely private person. She has a close circle of friends, serious aspirations for her acting career, and a soft spot for Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
What’s also clear is that the mid-90s were very much a man’s world; and though Anderson was in big demand, she didn’t have much of a voice. Whether it’s a bitter handyman leaking footage of the sex tape or a famous chat show host asking Anderson what the exposure was like on national TV, the series brings the gut-wrenching misogyny of the era into the light for all to see. In a post-#MeToo world, it’s plain to see how appallingly female celebrities like Anderson were treated by the press – and later episodes will focus on Anderson’s perspective alone as the series unravels the fallout from the leak.
That being said, the series isn’t just about the sex tape. There are moments of humour, heart and joy, especially the scenes of the infatuated icons dancing to Europop anthems, and Anderson singing along to The Cardigans with her make-up artists in her Baywatch trailer. The 90s nostalgia will definitely delight anyone with a penchant for a reboot. But looking at Pam & Tommy through today’s lens, there’s one overriding message: that Anderson is a woman who is still very much on the road to vindication.
The first three episodes of Pam & Tommy are available to watch on 2 February on Hulu in the US and Disney+ in the UK, with new episodes released weekly thereafter
Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.