Pam & Tommy -- Set in the Wild West early days of the Internet, “Pam & Tommy” is based on the incredible true story of the Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) sex tape. Stolen from the couple’s home by a disgruntled contractor (Seth Rogen), the video went from underground bootleg-VHS curiosity to full-blown global sensation when it hit the Web in 1997. A love story, crime caper and cautionary tale rolled into one, the eight-part original limited series explores the intersection of privacy, technology and celebrity, tracing the origins of our current Reality TV Era to a stolen tape seen by millions but meant to have an audience of just two. Pam (Lily James) and Tommy (Sebastian Stan), shown. (Courtesy of Hulu)

“Pam & Tommy” TV Series Season 1, Episode 1 Recap

In 1995, a contractor turned former porn star broke into Pamela Anderson’s mansion with her husband Tommy Lee and stole a safe that contained, among other things, a sex tape. Because Lee owed him money, the contractor made VHS copies of the home video and sold them online. The film itself eventually made its way into the internet because, in today’s environment, embarrassing videos must never die. Anderson claims she has never seen the sex tape and will not watch the Hulu miniseries “Pam & Tommy” (or so a source tells Us Weekly).

“Pam & Tommy”, a TV biography with a “faster! louder! cruder!” humorous sensibility, is less intrusive to Anderson’s privacy than the sex tape leak, but it’s also less explicable. Pamela Anderson was a Playboy veteran and the bombshell blonde of Baywatch in 1995. There was a ready audience for a tape of her having sex with her husband, who happened to be Mötley Crüe’s bad-boy drummer. Anderson is a 54-year-old lady in 2022, working on a home renovation show on HGTV Canada. She’s been outspokenly anti-porn, and it appears that she’s also anti–“Pam & Tommy”, a show about a private tape leaked without her permission and made without her participation.

Craig Gillespie, who directed the black comedy I, Tonya, based on the life of the unlucky Olympic figure skater, directed the first three episodes. Beyond depicting Sebastian Stan as a scumbag ex-husband, the parallels are striking. It’s almost a formula: resurrect a 1990s tabloid drama in which the media annihilates a female celebrity and tell it all over again, this time with greater sympathy for the woman at the center of the storm. Not every biopic must include or gratify its muse, but art that uses a real person’s suffering to convey a story with little historical significance is only as good as the case for its relevance. “Drilling and Pounding,” the series’ first episode, advances quickly, following the beats of the Rolling Stone story on which it is based. Seth Rogen’s performance as Rand Gauthier, the contractor who pushes Tommy over the edge, is amusing, but the episode falls short of answering the nagging question: Why are we even talking about this again?

I believe the closest it gets is in a quick introductory sequence. Lily James gives her most breathy, girliest Pamela, possibly too breathy to be accurate, but perhaps that’s the point she’s making about Pamela Anderson Lee’s highly stylized creation in the first place. “What’s it like” to have a private sex tape in wide circulation, Jay Leno asks his visitor. “How does it feel?” Pamela repeats herself, her mouth moving around incessantly as if she’s having difficulties getting his foolish words out. She’s hypnotic. Jay, how do you think it’s going?

We aren’t informed. Instead, we went back a year. Rand is nail-gunning the custom bed he’s been hired to build for “Pam and Tommy’s” master suite, but he’s having trouble concentrating due to the sounds of the newlyweds’ raucous lovemaking wafting in from another wing of their obnoxious Malibu mansion (which you may recall from MTV Cribs or even Lee’s memoir Tommyland, which I swear I’ve only skimmed). Rand isn’t your average carpenter. The Bhagavad Gita, a Masonic manual, and a book about the occult are stuffed into the back of his work van, along with his equipment and a milk crate with the reading list for a survey course on global religion: the Bhagavad Gita, a Masonic manual, and a book on the occult. Rand is a carpenter-turned-amateur theologian, similar to Jesus, I suppose.

Tommy Lee arrives in a banana hammock, followed by a very hairy, very good dog, to make big, unpredictable alterations to the design for his gorgeous sex palace. Tommy is gleaming and self-assured, and he’s got the word “mayhem” tattooed over his toned tummy, which is a promise. He wants the bedroom to be even posher, and he doesn’t care how much time or money it takes because it isn’t his. He owes Rand $8,200 for work already accomplished, as well as another $15,000 to Lonnie, the general contractor. Rand sees a rockstar and a sex kitten in Tommy and Pam, avatars who can’t stop swishing their hair in the breeze and licking each other’s faces. Rand does not see humans, and Tommy, to be fair, does not see Rand as one.

Surprisingly, the episode focuses on Rand the most, emphasizing how pitifully human he is. We follow Rand back to his shithole flat, which is strewn with unpaid bills when he exits the palatial gates. In Van Nuys, he works as a carpenter and sleeps on the floor on a mattress. He jacks off to porn with a bag of frozen peas tied to his hand, which is swelled from striking the wall for no reason other than the fact that he can’t solve his money problems. His TV was turned off by the cable company, but the attractive wife of the boss who stiffed him is a regular on Baywatch. Tommy Lee is a difficult man to talk to in general — when Rand confronts him about the money he owes him, Tommy is busy toying with his gun collection — but Rand is particularly bad at it. Let’s just claim it’s a common procedure to pay half of the construction costs upfront and then bill the client! Rand may be clueless, but he’s seen his fair share of past-due notices.

When someone as hapless as this is engaged, things swiftly go from bad to catastrophic. Tommy accuses Rand of perverting Pam in the kitchen but, in reality, he’s only there to catch up with Tommy. Tommy fires him because he’s a jerk, pathologically reckless, and mercurial in ways that should make us concerned for Pam’s safety. Lonnie has also been sacked. Rand advises that they file a lawsuit, but the legal bills may be too much for them both. In the end, Rand the woodworking philosopher believes that karma will take care of Tommy, just as it did in the Mahabharata, which he describes as “one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Rmyaa,” literally quoting the Mahabharata’s Wikipedia entry, which does not yet exist.

Rand is drawn to religion because of its plain approach to justice: the pious are rewarded, but not always here on earth, which is terrible for Rand’s Discover card balance. When Tommy points a rifle at Rand as he tries to gather his equipment the next day, Rand wets himself, triggering a traumatic childhood memory. Rand wet himself as a kid because his jerky, careless father locked him in a room without a bathroom so he could throw a party. Tommy’s father used to declare him worthless, and he still feels he is. That’s fine since Rand isn’t only looking for a way to recoup his lost salary. This is a crusade against the forces of evil. The meek are blessed because they will inherit the sex tape, even if they must steal it.

To be clear, Rand is completely unaware that there is a tape in the safe. Tommy keeps the safe in an unlocked garage in an unlocked cabinet, and he knows about the firearms and the money. Rand, who is inept in everyday life, commits himself to the theft. He patrols the Lees’ estate, keeping an eye on “Pam and Tommy”, as well as the paparazzi and the new building crew. He informs Lonnie, who enjoys tiki beverages, about his blunder, which involves dressing up as Tommy’s dog in a faux-sheepskin rug that resembles Nana from the 1960 made-for-TV musical adaptation of Peter Pan. Lonnie, understandably, declines to join him in his comic book caper.

It’s difficult to create any drama or even comedy around the theft since (1) we know it works and (2) we don’t care about the guy who pulls it off. Rand doesn’t have to go into the mansion to steal the safe, but he does on the night he robs the Lees just because he can. Rand barely manages a sentence in Tommy’s way during the day, but with Pam and Tommy prone and nude in the middle of the night, he throws his enemy the finger before loading his safe on a dolly and walking it out the front gates. Amen.

Rand abandons the safe somewhere in the woods and lists his loot: the firearms, some cash, a dagger, and an unidentified white bikini. He pays off his debts by pawning what he can. Rand’s situation may stop there, but it’s no longer about recouping the money he’s owed. It’s all about divine justice here. Rand is a zealot who has opened himself up to the gods as an instrument for their magnificent karma, albeit on a slacker’s timeframe. He eventually gets around to taking the Hi8 tape he found in the vault to Milton Ingley (Nick Offerman), a porn producer in the Valley, who has the capability to play it back. They watch the movie together, skipping over the boring family vacation segments and discovering the sex tape buried in the otherwise uninteresting home video. Offscreen, we hear Pam implore her husband to give her babies before she lets out an orgasmic scream as “Pam and Tommy” do it. Throughout the first episode, we only hear her voice three times.

Pam never responds to Jay’s query in the first scene, yet it was a scene that stayed with me for a long time. I was thinking about it so much that I looked up Anderson’s appearances on Jay Leno on Google and watched everything I could. Anderson isn’t squirmy and speechless in real life. She even tries to hold Leno accountable on one occasion, bringing a supercut of all of his monologue jokes regarding the sex video up to that point. They broadcast it, and the audience claps and laughs, as does Jay, but Anderson does not, at least not straight away. She seems sorrowful as she holds one manicured finger to her chin. “It’s not funny,” she adds, yet it’s awkward, and she’s beginning to smile, as she has for years. Jay, how do you think it’s going? “This is horrible to us,” she told him directly in real life.