'Pam & Tommy' review: The internet is for porn

Episode 4 of Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy” begins when the pamsextape.com website loads on a mid-90s IBM desktop – the screaming police shout...


Episode 4 of Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy” begins when the pamsextape.com website loads on a mid-90s IBM desktop – the screaming police shouting “PAMELA’S HARDCORE SEX VIDEO”, the titillating photos of Pamela Anderson and her husband Tommy Lee by loading a bunch of pixels at a time.

After watching the scene, I typed the URL into my browser, for journalism. Surprise! The construction site is still there, faster loading now, sticky “BUY HERE” button and all. But its links now redirect you to the homepage of Annapurna Pictures, a production company behind the limited series, which has kept the page as a kind of UNESCO World Heritage porn site.

Like this page, “Pam & Tommy,” which begins Hulu Wednesday, is both old and new. It’s partly a hug from the picaresque world of porn, in the spirit of the pop culture of the decade it’s set in, like “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Boogie Nights.” And it’s partly a 21st century reconsideration of how that era treated young women, like Impeachment: A History of American Crime. “Framing Britney Spears” and even “Yellow jackets.”

Put the two sides together and you have a fun hybrid of heist comedy, romance and cautionary tale, whose clashing parts offer a darkly comic portrait of one era and a chilling glimpse into another: crude and panoptic future of the Internet, arriving at 28.8 kilobits per second.

Like so many tales of misfortune, this one begins with the renovation of a house. In 1995, Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen), a porn actor turned entrepreneur, is hired by the volatile Tommy (Sebastian Stan) to build a sex Xanadu complete with mirrors and strip bar, then fired and stiffened for thousands of dollars. . The opening scenes — Rand pounding away to a raucous newlywed couple — set a directorial tone as subtle as Tommy’s banana-hammock slip.

As a reward, Rand steals the couple’s safe, which contains, among other valuables, the now-notorious homemade erotic tape. He seeks a contact in the porn industry (Nick Offerman, his performance so impeccably oily you’ll need soap to wash it off), who realizes they have something valuable but not cashable: no one will sell it .

No one, that is, until a visit to the brand new World Wide Web to buy plumbing supplies made Rand realize he had access to a global, anonymous electronic marketplace. Faster than you can say http-colon-slash-slash, a company was born and a media frenzy was unleashed.

In the mind of Rand, an autodidact of world religions, he is a just instrument of karma. But what he does amounts to what we now call revenge porn – a violation that ends up targeting primarily a woman, not the man Rand is supposed to be exacting revenge against. (This website is not advertising “TOMMY’S HARDCORE SEX VIDEO”, after all.)

In the end, “Pam & Tommy”, created by Robert Siegel, is above all the story of Pam. But it takes time to get there, which is his boldest bet or his biggest failure, or maybe both.

The beginning focuses on Rand – less mean than schmo, an unhappy angry mule – and a parody take on Pam and Tommy’s whirlwind courtship. The ‘Baywatch’ star is a personification of the sex bomb beach ideal, the Mötley Crüe drummer a glamorous caricature of strutting masculinity. It’s like watching two action figures come to life and mate.

At first it seems like “Pam & Tommy” is trying to be taken advantage of and feel superior to him too. He invites you to view the whole affair as many people at the time did (especially late-night entertainers like Jay Leno, played by Adam Ray), as a goofball tabloid escapade in which a pair of trashy celebrities is on display. When “jokes write themselves,” as one “Tonight” writer puts it here, they tend not to be good jokes.

But then it takes a shift, which makes me believe that the early tone of the yuk-it-up is at least partly intentional: he starts treating his cartoons like people feeling real pain.

This is especially true for Pam, thanks in part to James’ deviously complex performance. In a story that likes to go big and wide (Stan plays Tommy like a lustful wind-up toy), she finds subtleties in a woman that Hollywood and the media want to turn into a sex cartoon.

On the set of “Baywatch,” where producers cut her lines and took care of fitting her swimsuit, Pam smiles, nods, and coaxes her way to more agency. When the video is made public, she’s savvy enough to know that what’s just an embarrassment for Tommy — maybe even a publicity boost — is far more devastating for her.

She also realizes that her brash decision to sue Penthouse magazine for posting stills from the video will only expose her further. The best episode of the series, written by Sarah Gubbins and directed by Hannah Fidell, intercuts her humiliating deposition in the case with her discovery as a model and Playboy Playmate, cautioned by Hugh Hefner (Mike Seely) against people who want to make “the Pamela they want. The theft and sale of his most intimate moments is the ultimate example.

In many ways, “Pam & Tommy” is the Malibu cousin of last year’s “Impeachment,” about Monica Lewinsky. It’s also a story about how the nascent web helped tabloid stories spill into mainstream media in the ’90s, and a revisit of a “sex scandal” that was truly a high-slut shame. tech.

There are plenty of things to do 90s nostalgia in “Pam & Tommy”. (There was a time, kids, when “sex tapes” were actually bands.) But there’s also a distinct idea of ​​paradoxical sexual mores from the days of “Private Parts” and “There’s Something About Mary,” when popular culture was become more lustful and sexually open but even more restrictive in the leeway he gave women over men.

The result is a narrative that is more erratic and less realistic than “Impeachment,” but one whose absurd leaps bring its time to life more vividly. It also features more creative, uh, practical effects, when Tommy has a debate with his own penis – voiced fiercely by Jason Mantzoukas – which moves and gesticulates like something out of a “Dumbo” remake.

How this all works partly depends on how well you believe a feminist media retrospective can coexist with talking genitals. “Pam & Tommy” isn’t consistent in tone or argument, but it’s still entertaining. He invites you in with some slimy comedy, then, as Pam endures a good sport “Tonight” show visit with leering Leno, gives her the final say, “That’s not funny.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: 'Pam & Tommy' review: The internet is for porn
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