Most millennials might be too young to remember anything about the relationship between Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee in the 1990s. While one quick Google search would generally reveal what happened between the two, I think Hulu’s latest limited series Pam & Tommy does the duo a lot more justice in showing exactly what went down in glorious and gratuitous detail.
Now, I was able to view the first three episodes ahead of their premiere on February 2nd. From what I’ve seen so far, not only does the show explore how the ill-fated couple met, fell in love and married, but it primarily focuses how they became the subject of one of the internet’s greatest scandals – even in its infancy.
Although Pamela and Tommy are certainly the two of the most important “characters” in the series (as evidenced by the title), there’s a third, equally important person in their story who changes the course of their lives forever: Rand Gauthier.
Seth Rogen, who also developed the series and executively produced it, plays Gauthier. A former pornstar-turned-electrician, when we first meet him, he’s literally in the process of erecting Tommy Lee’s ideal “sex dungeon”. After trying to leave that lifestyle in his rearview, there’s some slight irony in the fact that now it’s still paying the bills – not for long though. As we come to see in the first episode, which is told almost entirely from his perspective, the bough is about to break.
Despite being a millionaire and constantly claiming “money is no option” for his indecisive and unnecessary renovations, it’s revealed that Tommy Lee has not paid a dime to Gauthier or any of the other men he’s contracted for the project. As we also come to learn in the first episode, Gauthier is borderline broke. Not only can he barely afford to pay rent, he’s maxed out his credit cards for the project and he’s only got a few dollars left to his name. But when he attempts to ask for an advance to continue the work, Tommy takes it as an insult and fires him.
In an attempt to get what he’s owed, however, Gauthier stages a heist at Tommy’s estate. Having worked there before, he believes he knows where all the valuables are. What he actually doesn’t know is that he’s about to steal the invaluable sex tape that sets the rest of the story in motion.
While the first episode establishes the premise of the show, episode two puts Pam and Tommy’s relationship in context for the viewers. It may not have made sense at the time – and it probably still doesn’t make sense to some – but it does a pretty good job at offering an up-close and personal glimpse into their special bond.
An inverse of episode one, it’s told entirely from their perspective leading up until the day Tommy hires Gauthier and the other contractors. It isn’t until episode three, however, that the series finally hits its stride balancing both narratives and setting up how the fates of each of the three main characters will tragically intertwine.
Rogen is surprisingly compelling as Gauthier. I wouldn’t call it his best role to date, but it’s up there. Even though you know what he’s doing is wrong, it’s hard not to root for him to some degree. It’s not so much because of Rogen’s performance but a combination of Craig Gillespie’s direction and Sebastian Stan’s turn as the tumultuous Tommy Lee.
Similar to his previous projects, I, Tonya and Cruella, Gillespie once again shows sympathy towards a character that history has not been kind towards. Despite his despicable decisions, he understands that Gauthier is still human. As we come to find out, he’s got his own dreams and ambitions, and he’s also got an ex-wife that he still deeply cares for. Instead of villainizing him straight out of the gate, he leaves the door open for the audience to determine is actually a bad person.
Now, in regards to Lee, going into this I could care less for him. But Stan does a good job at exposing his different layers. Sure, for a time he is the bad guy and arguably the catalyst for the primary story, but it’s hard to really walk away from this thinking he’s actually a bad guy. This is most evident in the way that we see Lee woo Pamela. There’s a tenderness Stan reveals about Tommy that makes it so easy to invest in their relationship, despite the unconventional circumstances.
I’d be lying if I said Lily James’ Pamela Anderson wasn’t going to be the show’s biggest talking point though. If you thought the resemblance between James and Anderson was uncanny from the behind-the-scenes photos that hit the web during pre-production, wait until you see her actual performance. It’s not just the way she looks, but the way she talks, the way she carries herself, and whatever innocence she has – and loses to Tommy – that makes her the MVP in my opinion. For anyone that still might doubt her throughout the first two episodes, just wait until the incredibly powerful monologue she gives at the tail end of episode three. It reveals everything you need to know about who Pamela is without Tommy.
Now, I haven’t even mentioned the rest of the series’ cast and co-stars, including Nick Offerman, Taylor Schilling, Andrew Dice Clay, and especially Jason Manzoukas as Tommy Lee’s penis (which you might have already read about). That’s because while they are all fantastic, 1) I don’t want to spoil anything and 2) this isn’t about them.
At the heart of Pam & Tommy is a story about the relationships we forge, the kindness needed to keep them afloat, and who to really hold accountable when they fail. Whether all of our main characters learn any of those lessons (sooner or later) remains to be seen. While transparency is always the best policy – and the series does bare it all to some degree – the first three episodes alone will leave viewers still wanting to know more about the star-crossed lovers than ever before.