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5 Screenwriting Takeaways: Hulu's 'Pam & Tommy'

February 7, 2022
4 min read time

It's 1995. Bill Clinton is in office (it's three years before the Lewinsky scandal). Hard Copy pulls great ratings, and Americans tolerate dial-up and chat rooms for the internet on home desktop computers. Meanwhile, Pamela Anderson had already graced the cover of Playboy five times, well on her way to her record 14 covers, and Mötley Crüe had already had a number one hit with Dr. Feelgood. But life changed irrevocably for Anderson and Tommy Lee (Mötley Crüe's frontman) when their orbits collided.

Pam & Tommy examines their collision, unification of power, and the fall-out of their leaked sex tape in many unexpected ways. Here are your five screenwriting takeaways from Robert Siegel's new show.

1. The power of love is undeniable.  Lily James and Sebastian Stan as the title couple are beyond compelling, illustrated by an incredible scene in episode two when Pam and Tommy fly home from Mexico together after a four-day romance and subsequent marriage where they ask each other their favorite movies. They feel like the innocent kids at the end of The Graduate, gobsmacked by the consequences of their actions. The show does an excellent job of creating sympathy in unexpected places like this, which comes out of portraying a pure love between Pam and Tommy. Of course, the love didn’t always stay pure, but according to the show, and often according to Pam (who did not sign off on the production) there is and always has been love between them. 


2. The idea of consent.  The show does have a bit of an uneven tone, but it also takes huge swings. (much will be written about Stan as Tommy Lee having conversations with his personified penis). But, what’s unfortunate, is that Pamela Anderson chose not to consult, unlike the recent American Crime Story where Monica Lewinsky ensured her voice was a part of the process. Nonetheless, the show does not shy away from the fact that Anderson (and Tommy Lee) were victims of an invasion of privacy on the most monumental scale imaginable and that the fallout and consequences for such would be hugely different for one of the most successful American sex symbols out there versus her rocker husband. 


3. The story no one knew.  To this day, many do not know that Pam and Tommy Lee never directly profited from the sale of their sex tape (and Anderson has allegedly never even seen it). The show delves into who did: A contractor named Rand played by a mulleted and theology spouting Seth Rogen who speaks the excellent line: “I am karma and I’m a bitch.” Somehow, Rogen creates sympathy for a man who deserves very little when he invades the privacy of two people who maybe never behaved the best but certainly did not deserve this worst. The show begs the question, when you choose to be a public person, how much of yourself are people entitled to? Hopefully, the answer in society as a whole remains very little, but Anderson and Tommy Lee could certainly write an Encyclopedia on it. 


4.  Pamela Anderson is more than meets the eye.  Nobody ends up on the cover of Playboy 14 times without excellent business savvy and an undeniable work ethic. Even though Anderson is not behind this project, Lily James made an incredible effort to serve the woman well. In the show, audiences will get to know a sweet Canadian who works hard, loves fiercely, and speaks wisely in the face of getting married, creating a family, and starring in one of the most successful TV franchises in history — all before the age of 30. Anderson is so much more than the tape that has been so synonymous with her name. 


5. Is it wrong to miss the ‘90s?  In the midst of a never-ending pandemic, constant streams of bad news, and what feels like the brink of multiple new wars, it's easy to be nostalgic for another time. But, watching Pam & Tommy, it does feel like there’s been monumental progress made. While Stan manages to give Tommy Lee a childlike innocence, there’s no doubt the rocker was part of a toxically masculine bro metal culture that served no one well. Meanwhile, the world has hopefully begun to move beyond the sex-shaming that came with the mad sales of the tape into a culture of sex positivity and greater acceptance. So, is it valuable to continually pull back the curtain on a time gone by? Likely yes, if one can continue to pull a lesson from it. Is it valuable if that lesson continues to hurt someone involved in the original narrative? That remains to be seen.  

Final Takeaway: Pam & Tommy is the wild ride it promises to deliver. There’re drugs, talking dicks, ridiculous lines of dialogue that in less capable hands may not ring true, and ‘90s nostalgia galore. Some uneven narrative devices sometimes mute the ultimate message, but ultimately, it strives to serve its subjects well, fleshing out backstories the greater public has likely not contemplated until now.

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