Pam & Tommy review: The sex-tape drama feels exploitative

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By the time we reach episode six, which acts as Anderson’s origin story of sorts, it’s hammered home how little autonomy she had in her life – and over her body – back then, and how much of it was controlled by men. When the sex tape makes the leap from dodgy VHS bootleggers to the all-new phenomenon of the World Wide Web (“What’s a website?” one character asks), she is mortified, all colour draining out of her Californian tan when she realises millions of people would now be watching her most intimate moments.

We learn that Anderson had a miscarriage – something that the show seems to suggest may be caused by the stress of the sex tape being leaked – and then she is subjected to a humiliating deposition when she files a lawsuit against Penthouse to stop them running the stolen images in their magazine. James comes into her own in these legal-heavy scenes as we see how equally surreal and mortifying the situation was.

To top it all off, she cries, she’s “a walking punchline” to the nation’s chat show comedy writers. It’s interesting the series opens with a recreation of the famous interview Anderson did with Jay Leno in 1996 where he mockingly asks her about the tape: “What’s it like to have that kind of exposure?” though it’s not until episode seven of Pam & Tommy that we get her answer. “It’s horrible,” Anderson, who was five months’ pregnant at the time, says. “To have something so intimate stolen from you, private from inside your marriage, that’s taken without permission and exposed to the world… It’s devastating, it’s devastating to us.” 

However it’s ironic that the creators of Pam & Tommy at once seem to want to sympathise with Anderson, while also being intent on digging up a traumatic personal story of hers. The show will end up being a big conversation-starter, most likely, but it feels like grubby stuff that, sadly, has facilitated the real-life victim being unwantedly pushed back into the headlines for an episode she’d likely rather forget.

★★☆☆☆

Pam & Tommy airs on Hulu in the US and Disney+ in the UK from 2 February.

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