You don’t have to like tabloids to love ‘Pam and Tommy’

Pam and Tommy looks trashy at first.

Sure, the true-to-life miniseries aims to earnestly entice audiences with stars Lily James and Sebastian Stan anchoring its promotion. The pair’s physical transformations into Baywatch actor Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee are inarguably extraordinary, and splashing their grinning caricatures across the Hulu homepage seems like smart salesmanship.

This true story is one of the rare cases where arguing its facts “belong” on screen feels fully and properly justified.

But within the superficial sheen of lip gloss and body oil, a false impression lingers. A decades-old sex tape saga stretched to eight episodes? At best, it sounds tacky; at worst, tasteless. Maybe you don’t remember every specific aspect of this ‘90s tabloid nightmare, or know what the central figures are up to in 2022. But you’ve certainly gleaned enough to NOT need a tawdry recap of this sordid love affair retold as a full-on limited series… right?

Wrong. Based on a 2014 Rolling Stone article recounting the widely misunderstood celebrity scandal, Pam and Tommy brings to light a story so sensational you’ll struggle to fathom how an incorrect version ever earned mainstream acceptance. Though your bafflement won’t last long. Reframing Anderson and Lee, but especially Anderson, as victims of a crime in a no-win situation is just the beginning for this surprisingly revelatory project created by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler). It’s a wholesale re-claiming of history that, despite not being signed off on by the actual Pam and Tommy, seems an essential addition to the public record.

Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen in 'Pam and Tommy'
Credit: Kelsey McNeal/Hulu

Executive producer Seth Rogen stars as Rand Gauthier, a down-on-his-luck contractor who sports a curly mullet and affinity for Tarot cards. Gauthier begins the series as one of three construction workers tasked with renovating Anderson and Lee’s massive Malibu mansion in the summer of 1995. Never mind that the duo’s whirlwind romance saw them meet and marry over the course of just four days that February; the promise of forever fortifies Lee’s insistence that everything be perfect for his brand new bride.

“How pimp would that be?” the rock god bellows in a frenzied description of his dream bedroom, complete with waterbed, during episode 1.

Lee’s increasingly intense demands, however, lead to a seemingly inevitable clash with the crew. Soon, Gauthier is out for revenge with a scheme that really did involve him dressing up like Lee’s dog and stealing an enormous safe from the celebrity sweethearts’ home in the middle of the night. Of course, Gauthier didn’t know that Anderson and Lee’s infamous sex tape — a private, super romantic home video shot on the couple’s honeymoon — was inside the vault he’d stolen.

A beach wedding scene with Lily James and Sebastian Stan from 'Pam and Tommy'
Credit: Erin Simkin / Hulu

Upon discovery, Gauthier and his partner-in-crime Milton Owen Ingley (a Nick Offerman so in-character you can practically smell him) try to sell the tape in what should’ve been a fairly simple crime. But the reality, at least as determined by the show, is a toxic train wreck that starts with a mob deal and ends in the birth of internet porn as we know it. Along the way, Anderson’s career is metaphorically battered beyond recognition and her relationship with Lee figuratively lit on fire thanks to lawyers and Penthouse (yes, that “Penthouse”).

Exquisitely rendered and meticulously edited, Pam and Tommy explains in excruciating detail what made this heinous horror show possible then, and ties it back to major questions about privacy and misogyny still facing us now. Yes, that’s a trick pulled off by American Crime Story: Impeachment and other shows like it before. But this true story is one of the rare cases where arguing its facts “belong” on screen feels fully and properly justified. Anderson and Lee’s narrative is one built almost exclusively on Hollywood optics. Any further litigation of their legacy happening in a public-facing arena feels fitting.

Sebastian Stan as Tommy Lee in 'Pam and Tommy'
Credit: Erin Simkin / Hulu

The rest of what you’d expect from Pam and Tommy lives up to the hype too. Stan and James chew up their starring roles like a half-gone roll of Hubba Bubba gum, with Rogen, Offerman, and the rest of the ensemble cast nearly matching that ferocity. The setting, both time and place, is fun too with big set pieces and even better music keeping the pace fast and the entertainment value high. Oh, and yes, the rumors are true: Jason Mantzoukas voices Tommy Lee’s talking penis — and the penis is the voice of reason.

Predictable only to those who haven’t seen it, Pam and Tommy turns what could be a crass and cruel affair into a gobsmacking, great watch. Sure, pulling yet another tabloid story for yet another streaming show might seem trashy. But if that’s dumpster diving, then Pam and Tommy strikes a base of solid gold.

Pam and Tommy episodes 1 through 3 are now streaming on Hulu, with episodes 4 through 8 releasing weekly starting Feb. 9

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