Wild Side: Our Review of ‘Pam and Tommy’

Posted in Disney +, TV, What's Streaming? by - February 02, 2022
Wild Side: Our Review of ‘Pam and Tommy’

There might be some doubt as to how crazy the filmmakers behind the Hulu series Pam and Tommy (Disney + here in Canada) are willing to get. But they sink their teeth into this story. It peeks behind the torrid love affair between Pamela Anderson and Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. And that doubt that the show wiill play safe is obliterated by the second episode. Certainty arrives right around the midway point of the episode. During that time, Sebastian Stan’s Tommy carries out a conversation between himself and his erect penis (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas) about how much he loves Pamela.

After only 2 days together in Cancun, Tommy’s already swearing off previous and would be paramours Heather Locklear and Denise Richards, much to the dismay of his philandering genitals. It’s all laid bare for the camera and firmly establishes that the series is willing to go anywhere. It makes its debut splash with this along with the first and third episodes all dropping on February 2nd, 2022.

Pam and Tommy explores the tumultuous relationship between the titular couple. It also fully exposes the situation and circumstances behind the infamous robbery that put their private sex tape out of their hands. That tape, then, falls onto the hands of former porn actor turned carpenter Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen). Rand is tired of Tommy Lee taking advantage of him. He is desperate for payback and takes the tape to his former porn director ‘Uncle’ Miltie (Nick Offerman). And the pair plot a way to capitalize on the contents.

Meanwhile, Pamela (Lily James) is desperately trying to shed her image of just an airhead in a swimsuit. And we see her struggles on the set of Baywatch as she prepares for the launch of her film Barb Wire. She hopes that movie will launch her film career. At the same time, Tommy is desperately trying to remain relevant in a music scene that has left behind Motley Crue. Specifically, consumers are leaving him in favor of Seattle Grunge.

Netflix’s attempt at telling the story of the band Motley Crue in The Dirt crams the band’s autobiography of the same name into a film just over 1 1/2 hours long. Pam and Tommy thankfully does the polar opposite, as creators/showrunners Robert Siegel and D.V. DeVincentis get to explore more and get more in-depth over its 6+ hour runtime. This gives them much more freedom to focus their stories. That’s true even with 3 or more plots running concurrently. These plot points don’t lose themselves in the shuffle of the series overall and have room to breathe on their own. It’s a vital component to a series that examines the furor that arose surrounding the tape. It also shows the mistakes that were made by everyone involved in resolving those issues.

But perhaps the biggest advantage this series boasts is in its casting. All of the actors have arrived ready to play and in some cases literally, bare all. Stan does an admirable job in the role of Lee, someone who could really be extremely dislikable if played differently. Rogen’s playing a put upon shlub with a master plan that blows up in his face. That’s a role he seems uniquely built to play and that he has certainly played before.

Nick Offerman’s unhinged Miltie may surprise some though, as he starts off in familiar territory to other roles that we have seen him in countless times before. But he descends into a drug and sex worker driven abyss that he seems to revel in playing the whole time. The series also packs some great supporting roles. Andrew Dice Clay turns in an excellent performance as a loan shark. And Taylor Schilling plays Rand’s long tormented ex-wife.

But as well as they do, the audience is still sitting there seeing Rogen and Stan et all delivering performances while still being very visibly themselves. Despite their best attempts to make Stan look like Lee, it never quite sticks. The same cannot be said about Lily James though. James disappears into the role entirely, basically channeling the Playboy queen herself, in a performance that’s so masterful it’s staggering. No further evidence is required outside of Episode 6. There, the audience sees one of the most grotesque lawyers ever committed to film. (Veteran character actor John Billingsley brilliantly plays the role). And he attempts to degrade and admonish Pamela in a brutal deposition which features James’ best work of the series. If she doesn’t at least get a nomination for an Emmy it would be a shame.

Sexy, brutal, unflinching, fearless filmmaking is at the core of Pam and Tommy, and it’s a pleasant surprise. I’ll excuse you for expecting a pure fluff piece as even I was expecting something along those lines. While the series does not shy away from the debauchery, this is very much an adult series where full frontal nudity abounds, there’s also a lot more going on in this series as well. It’s also about 2 man-boys finally facing the fact that they need to grow up and accept responsibility in very different ways. And it’s about the growth of a woman who finally decides she will do things the way she wants to do them. She does what she wants no matter what anyone else thinks and says. It’s certainly a lot more than what I was expecting out of a series with a talking CGI penis.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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