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Review: Hulu's miniseries 'Pam & Tommy' should have learned from its own storylines

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hulu's limited series "Pam & Tommy" centers on the infamous sex tape featuring actress Pamela Anderson and drummer Tommy Lee. Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman portray the two men who made the tape public. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show wants to comment on so many things, it has trouble finding a solid groove.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Set in the mid-1990s, "Pam & Tommy" works best when focused on Lily James' Pamela Anderson - an ambitious, good-hearted woman constantly held back by the childish men in her life. When a publicist asks Anderson, then starring in the syndicated TV show "Baywatch," who her role model is, she cites free-spirited firebrand Jane Fonda.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PAM AND TOMMY")

LILY JAMES: (As Pamela Anderson) She was all these totally opposite things all at once. She was protesting Vietnam and selling workout tapes. She was being a feminist and a sex object. But she didn't care what people thought of her. You know, that's probably the most amazing thing about her.

DEGGANS: Anderson's fantasy is freedom from judgment, especially by dimwitted men. So it's particularly horrifying when she learns someone is selling copies of a videotape stolen from her home featuring her having sex with her husband, Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. And she has to explain to that dimwitted man, Sebastian Stan, who gives an incredible performance as hyperactive rocker Lee, why the tape going public is so much worse for her than him.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PAM AND TOMMY")

SEBASTIAN STAN: (As Tommy Lee) How is this worse for you? Why? Because of your big career that's so much bigger than mine?

JAMES: (As Pamela Anderson) What, Tommy? It's not because of my big career. It's because I'm a woman. People are going to think you're cool for this, all right? They'll be high-fiving you in the street. Me, I'm going to get looked at like a slut by the whole world.

DEGGANS: Given how well the show defines Anderson's frustrations, it is surprising that "Pam & Tommy" commits the same mistake as its characters. It spends way too much time focused on the men who made this all happen, particularly Seth Rogen's Rand Gauthier, a carpenter who Lee fired after refusing to pay him thousands of dollars for renovation work. Gauthier tries to convince a co-worker to help him recover that money by stealing a safe from Lee's house.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PAM AND TOMMY")

SETH ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) All we're doing is getting our money back in a slightly different form.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) The stuff in there...

ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) ...What if it's worth more?

ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) Than he owes us?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Mmm hmm.

ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) That is compentory (ph) damages for our pain and our suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Isn't it compensatory?

ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) I don't know what you're talking about.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Compensatory damages.

ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) Compentory.

DEGGANS: It's compensatory. After he gets the tape, Gauthier explains to a sleazy porn director, played by Nick Offerman, how people can buy copies of the video anonymously on this new media platform called the internet.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PAM AND TOMMY")

ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) You're on your computer and you go in the search engine and you just type what you want to see - Pam Anderson - and up we pop.

NICK OFFERMAN: (As Uncle Miltie) I don't get it.

ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) I get it and so do 30 million other people.

OFFERMAN: (As Uncle Miltie) Thirty million.

ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) That's how many are on the web worldwide right now, and we can reach every single one of them.

OFFERMAN: (As Uncle Miltie) That's going to cost a fortune.

ROGEN: (As Rand Gauthier) It is free. The World Wide Web is free.

DEGGANS: "Pam & Tommy" was developed by Rogen, who is also an executive producer, so that explains why his character's around so much. And there's a lot to like here. Stars Lily James and Sebastian Stan are amazing. He even plays drums realistically. The series is more than equal opportunity when it comes to showing full frontal male nudity, even centering one scene on Lee having an argument with his personal equipment. But the show touches on too many ideas - '90s nostalgia, how grunge killed heavy metal, the rise of celebrity news and internet pornography - without really exploring any of them. Mostly, I wish "Pam & Tommy" had learned from its own storylines and pushed aside the mediocre men to make room for the compelling woman at the heart of its story. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.