Pam & Tommy

Lily James and Sebastian Stan as Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee in Disney+’s Pam & Tommy. Photograph: HULU
Rating 6.0
Streamer Disney+
Seasons 1
Episodes 8 x 45 mins

Ah, the banging tunes of the Nineties. When Mötley Crüe and Baywatch hooked millions around the world, and enriched their stars to the point of grungy, addled mayhem. Now the subject of retro fascination, it’s time, thought the deep-pocketed Disney+, to make a show about its dizzy heights. In which Rand (Seth Rogen), a disgruntled carpenter nail-gunning together a new mansion for Pamela Anderson and her thonged, preening drummer boyfriend Tommy Lee, finds all the grunting upstairs offensive to his view of karma (he quotes from the Mahabharata and regards himself an amateur theologian). And when he objects to the impossible architectural whims of his client, takes matters – and a video recording – into his own hands.  

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There are a few problems with all this. Could it be that Disney+ is the wrong place for this kind of show, and the wrong studio to make it? It may have all the heft and finish of a premium Hollywood production, but the material is thin, the pacing lanky, and director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) is no Tarantino or P T Anderson. Unless you’re going to lift this material into the realm of art, you’re better off with watching the 90s Baywatchwith Crüe on your Walkman. You might also say that Lily James is no, well, Pamela Anderson (who would have nothing to do with the show, despite pleading calls from James). Uneasily wielding fake fake boobs, she goes after pathos and feminist righteousness, as the dismal couple find their bedroom proclivities the subject of the world’s first leaked sex tape, but achieves only a pastiche of a pastiche. 

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Camilla Long in the Sunday Times reckons Pam & Tommy “needs a trigger warning for bad acting and terrible plot. And what can I say? It’s a lot of fun to watch — top marks for energy”. But reviewing for The Guardian, Lucy Mangan was impressed, finding it a “warm, funny, intelligent and rather moving drama, with astonishing performances”. The Independent’s Ed Cumming thinks Pam & Tommy “makes an interesting companion piece to the BBC’s A Very English Scandal, which used a miserable marriage with a notorious sex act at its heart to tell a wider story about class and gender relations.” The Evening Standard’s Kate Rosseinsky found it “entertaining, but it might leave you feeling a bit grimy afterwards.” 

First shown January 2022. 

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