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2 February 2022

Pam + Tommy reminds me of porn: it’s boring, lifeless and full of erect nipples

Yes, this Disney+ series features a huge, animatronic penis. But why was it made? What’s it for?

By Rachel Cooke

After watching the first episode of Pam + Tommy, an eight-part drama – yes, I know: there are documentary accounts of the entire Second World War that are shorter – about the most famous sex tape ever made (and sold), I was all questions. What was it precisely that the actor playing Tommy Lee had stowed inside his teeny tiny tiger-skin underpants? A giant radish? A rolled up copy of People magazine? A hibernating Chinese pangolin? Truly, the mind struggled to contain the possibilities.

But then I embarked on episode two, and… oh, God, it was worse than anything I’d imagined. Picture the scene. In a bathroom at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun, Tommy (Sebastian Stan), newly in love with Pamela Anderson (Lily James), stands in front of a mirror naked, the black tattoos on his pale skin giving him the appearance of a Bassett’s Liquorice Allsort. With Tommy having muttered something daffy about Pammy being “the one”, the camera then drops – and there it is, waving around like a slowworm in long grass: a huge, animatronic penis. What follows is not, it’s fair to say, Shakespeare. “I’m in love, bro,” says Tommy, to which his penis, whose voice rather unfortunately brings Tom Hanks to mind, replies: “Don’t do that! We’ve got to keep this pussy train moving!” Though Tommy is often in thrall to his genitals, of which he’s very proud – “Hugh G Wiener” reads the name on a message he earlier passed to Pamela, bored out of her mind at a Baywatch syndication event – on this occasion, he’s deaf to its protestations. Five minutes later, he and Pam are married, and busy planning the installation of a Zen garden in the grounds of their Malibu mansion (“So boodist!” says Pam). 

Pam + Tommy, which is based on a Rolling Stone piece from 2014, tells the true (or true-ish) story of how, soon after their wedding in 1995, the Mötley Crüe drummer and the Baywatch actor suffered a burglary in which a video of the two of them having sex was stolen, copies of which were then sold for $59.95 a pop via a website. The culprit was eventually identified as a disgruntled former porn star called Rand Gauthier (played here by Seth Rogen) who’d been working on their house until they fired him. Gauthier not only wanted to get revenge on Tommy; apparently, he knew a good business idea when he saw one. “Every dude on the planet is going to want to jack off to this one,” the writer of this series, Robert D Siegel, has him say. And then, because they are entirely helpless in the face of the gross and the obvious: “Trust me, I can’t stop.”

You’d think that Pam + Tommy might try to say something meaningful about privacy and modern celebrity; about the way this scandal foreshadows a certain kind of reality TV, not to mention OnlyFans and PornHub. But, as you’ll have gathered, it really doesn’t, and I do wonder why Lily James was drawn to a script in which her on-screen husband has such delightful lines as “Coming’s what I do best”, even if they did let her wear a flesh-coloured bodysuit (it wrinkles sometimes, Nora Batty-style). You’re a long way from Nancy Mitford now, Lily! I anticipated that Siegel might attempt to turn Anderson, however preposterously, into a proto-#MeToo activist – and perhaps he does later on (four hours of snow-washed denim, anal sex and heavy metal was more than enough for me). But so far, she and Lee are just a pair of cartoons – stupid, shallow and vulgar; if the producers feel anything at all about Anderson’s humiliation, their film only adds to it: every shot is gratuitous, just another violation.

It reminds me of porn in a way, and not only because of all the permanently erect nipples, the dicks that would do for draft excluders. It’s so lifeless; dead behind the eyes, and boring with it. Whole hours seem to pass in which Tommy does little more than play the human seed drill; in which Rand only shoves videos into padded envelopes. Why was it made, this show? What’s it for? (Actually, maybe don’t answer that.) Television is said currently to be flooded with money, talent and ideas – and yet, here we are, watching… an animatronic penis wiggle. This scene took, I’ve read, no fewer than four puppeteers to achieve, and all the “support” the streaming service behind it could possibly muster.

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This article appears in the 02 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Going Under