The Week on TV: Pam & Tommy; The Forbidden Art of Mary Beard; station eleven; Race and Medical Experiments: What’s the Truth? | Drama
Pam &Tommy (Disney+)
The Forbidden Art of Mary Beard (BBC Two) | iPlayer
station eleven (Starzplay)
Racial and medical experiments: what is it? the truth? (Channel 4) | All 4
It’s weird to think of the Disney+ series Pam &Tommy like a period piece, but since it’s set in the 1990s, that’s what it is. Based on an article by Amanda Chicago Lewis, it dramatizes the fallout from the sex tape stolen from Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee and Playboy model/Baywatch actor Pamela Anderson, and also serves as a time capsule of the dawn of Internet pornography and sexual mores of the time. Nowadays, would Anderson be ashamed on a world level? Mind you, just as she didn’t consent to the release of the tape (a hedonistic sex marathon supposedly grossing $77 million), she also didn’t give her blessing to this series, which is something to consider as you go. and as the eight episodes unfold. The tone borders on hyperreal — at one point, Lee’s penis speaks, pulling away like a CGI uncooked sausage — but the people are real.
Craig Gillespie (Me Tonya) directs the first three episodes and is also an executive producer. What saves Pam &Tommy to disappear beneath a seething sea of retrospective-“ick” is a crisp script by Robert Siegel (The wrestler) – Lee shouting, “I’m going to be a dad. Express” – and performances of bravery. Lily James is transformed into Pam with hairpieces, fake teeth and prosthetics, including breasts so gargantuan that viewers may think less about sex and more about biting bra straps and backaches. At first, there are concerns that James will play Anderson as a human pout, a ’90s Marilyn Monroe who chews off a pinky finger in denim shorts, but as the nightmare develops, his vulnerability and anger also increase.
As Lee (tattooed, jockstrapped, strutting around his Malibu mansion waving a gun), Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The First Avenger) becomes a full comic LA rock star, but in all honesty, so do most LA rock stars. Seth Rogen (who helped develop the project) is indeed in the role of the horribly treated worker who steals the tape, but we see him far too much: his justifications, his regrets, his scam too, his interest in theology… that’s already enough! Indeed, after lively opening episodes, the series begins to struggle as it embarks on legal actions stemming from the gang’s leak. This show seems to want to be seen in the same light as Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 pornographic masterpiece boogie nights, but the pungent mix of sleaze and heart isn’t quite there. James is dynamite though: Anderson isn’t portrayed as a Barbie doll throwing a tantrum, but as a real, hurt woman.
For the shock of the illicit, the first of the two-part BBC Two documentary The Forbidden Art of Mary Beard delivered arty obscenities and cultural smut in spades: penises galore, atrocities of war, incest, bestiality. It wasn’t long before I was so exhausted and desensitized, a full fledged multi-species orgy could have broken out on the other end of the couch and I could have just sighed and thrown on some wet wipes.
It was a gripping documentary in which the Cambridge University classics professor examined not only banned works, but also works of art that people choose to shy away from. Tracey Emin spoke candidly about her work, detailing her assaults, abortions and cancer: “If I go through hell, I paint hell. Turner Prize winner Martin Creed showed videos showing people vomiting first, then defecating on the floor (shocking – no one wiped). Daphne Todd won the BP Portrait Award in 2010 for her painting of her 100-year-old mother shortly after her death. Todd stopped painting it after three days, saying, “I didn’t want it to get to the point where there was a smell, I guess.” Even Beard pales at that one.
A 10-part Starzplay adaptation of Emily St John Mandel’s 2014 bestseller, station eleven, adapted by Patrick Somerville, arrives with an eerily familiar theme. A virus destroys the world’s population, and years later a troupe of comedians travel, foraging, surviving, performing the works of Shakespeare, keeping the spirit of creativity alive.
I wasn’t optimistic (looking for hippie troupes? I’ve had my time at Glastonbury), but a few episodes I find station eleven richly themed and intriguing. It’s about the wars outside and inner world (love and hope versus evil and threat). In the virus scenes, it’s inky in its darkness: the dead collapse on the workstations; a plane crashes in a long, slow moment; snow-covered cars are stuck in a motionless traffic jam.
Danielle Deadwyler is haunting as the heartbroken, unmotivated author of a graphic novel called Station Eleven. Mackenzie Davis is raw and believable as Kirsten, who was a child actress who performed on stage in King Lear when the plague hit and the leader (Gael García Bernal) died. Kirsten becomes one of the Shakespearian performers, but is she overzealous to protect the troupe at all costs?
On time, station eleven chokes on themes, time zones and characters, and liberties are taken with reality: in this post-civilization, everyone’s teeth are white and straight – obviously all dentists have survived. Yet, especially given our own recent history, this is meaty, absorbing fare, with a genuine sense of global and personal catastrophe.
Sometimes a documentary suddenly wakes you up and makes you see things differently. Seyi Rhodes’ hardworking documentary on Channel 4 Racial and medical experiments: what is it? the truth? does exactly that. An examination of heightened vaccine hesitancy among ethnic minorities, he took a forensic look at why some people of color harbor an ingrained distrust of science and medicine.
Rhodes traveled to the United States to tell a dark story. In Tuskegee, Alabama, black people with syphilis were treated as experiments and allowed to die, even though a cure was available. Among other scandals, he also looked into the 20th century testing of mustard gas on hundreds of British and Indian soldiers. Rhodes, who is vaccinated himself, directed this shocking documentary with calm authority, explaining how people of color help each other overcome deep hesitation. It was a precious and sobering hour, illuminating a bright torch in a dark area.
What else am I watching
BBC Three Relaunch
The channel’s return to terrestrial television last week included RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Vs the world and repetitions of Flea bagoriginally aired on BBC Three, as did Sally Rooney normal people. An adaptation of Rooney’s first novel, Conversations With friends, is imminent.
A celebrity version of the show in which the contestants evade capture by “hunters”, but for how long? In the first game, former Olympic sprinter Iwan Thomas went home! (Last time Stanley Johnson appeared to be going on vacation.) All to benefit Stand Up to Cancer.
The series finale of the Australian outback-based thriller that turned out to have more plot than a placemat. Still, Jamie Dornan and Danielle Macdonald are good, the locations are beautiful, and at least it’s a bit different.