Review: Pam & Tommy (Disney+), The Teacher (Channel 5), The Tinder Swindler (Netflix) in Aidan Smith's TV week
Cynical celebrity-watchers – and that’s, er, all of us – have thought for some time now the sex-tape is just another PR scam. It’s deliberately leaked to act as Viagra for a career that’s either tanking or hasn’t properly got going.
Kim Kardasian was accused of, in effect, invading her own privacy in 2003. And we sceptics might wonder about the timing of the latest revelation that two “ITV stars” have had film of their tender moments blasted across social media, given it coincides with Pam & Tommy (Disney+), telling the story of the big daddy of sex-tapes – the big weiner.
Apologies if this alarms you, but Tommy Lee’s penis is crucial to the plot. Well, it’s certainly crucial to the Motley Crue drummer because he confides in it when standing naked in front of the mirror and wondering whether, after just four days of a romance begun when he introduced himself in a nightclub by licking her face, the international sex bomb Pamela Anderson might indeed be “the one”.
And – get this – the penis talks back. Actually scolds its owner: “You listen to me, we’ve just gotten divorced.”
What, we wonder, does “Uncle” Walt Disney high up in Cartoon Heaven make of this? Or is the animation giving the willy a wiggly life of its own some kind of tribute?
There’s one last plea from down below – “dude, don’t do this” – but the wedding happens, and the honeymoon, and the consummation of the marriage aboard a yacht, video-ed for posterity.
The Anderson-Lee tape wasn’t deliberately sent out onto what someone calls the “inter-what?” (we’re back in dim and distant 1995 here). At least if it was, then the first episode of Pam & Tommy about the break-in at Lee’s Malibu mansion is pure fiction.
Pretty funny fiction, too, as the bozo handyman sacked from the ostentatious boudoir renovations – “shag-pile walls, Chinese swing, waterbed” – takes revenge by fooling the security guards with a furry rug to impersonate a dog so he can make off with the safe.
There are eight parts, which overextends the story somewhat, although the serious stretching is being done by the thong in which Lee is always parading. He’s played by Sebastian Stan, with mad eyes, flaring nostrils, multifarious tattoos, fellow drummer Keith Moon’s standpoint on reticence, that other sticksman John Bonham’s attitude to recreation – and an absolute refusal to be out-acted by his penis.
Lily James is Anderson with a pair of fake boobs. Well, that was what all the advance publicity was about, almost suggesting she would need nothing else for the portrayal, but that’s an insult to both women. James, who’s terrific, plays the Baywatch iconess with Marilyn Monroe’s mixture of vulnerability and va-va-voom, which is exactly as it should be.
This is a love story of sorts, and sweet too, before everything gets mucky.
The sudden changes in tone can be clunky, as if the show, which starts as a caper, goes to a plastic surgeon and says “make me a dark study of celebrity and its exploiters”. But there’s no doubt Anderson suffers more.
Lee’s reputation is enhanced by the tape; hers in a misogynistic industry is reduced. “I’m in it too,” he reminds her. She counters: “Not like me you’re not.”
Anderson isn’t the only blonde bombshell caught up in a sex scandal who’s desperately trying to save her name. So’s Jenna Garvey, subject of Channel 5’s drama The Teacher. Sheridan Smith is every bit as mesmerising as James here and, as with Pam & Tommy, you can open the papers right now and find real-life parallels.
Garvey is an inspirational teacher at a Bradford school. She’ll enliven lectures on Elizabeth Bennet, with references to the “sidebar of shame” (a racy feature of another newspaper, never seen it myself). But right after her appointment as Head of English she’s arrested for having sex with 15-year-old pupil Kyle (Samuel Bottomley).
Brilliant in class, bonkers out of it, the mini-skirted Miss, on a school night, will invariably be down Lazarus, which might rival Chasers in The Office for nightclub naffness (“All Bar One with the girlfriends? I prefer a bit of messy fun at a disco.”). In the mornings she’ll wake up in strange men’s beds, her memory shot (because of too many shots) and try to find her pants. After a quick vomit, she’ll apply some lippy to be just about ready to open up Pride and Prejudice again. All the kids love her, the hormonally-haywire boys especially.
Unlikely? It is if you went to my school where nearly all the female teachers were battle-axes in hairnets shouting about trigonometry and past participles from beneath clouds of chalkdust. And a lot of The Teacher is improbable, with Jenna pleading guilty to protect Kyle, even though she’s pretty sure nothing happened in that toilet cubicle. But when the set-up is revealed you’ll want to see how it all ends.
As scams go this has nothing on The Tinder Swindler. The Netflix doc reconstructs the gobsmacking story of internet con artist Simon Leviev whose swipe-right dates were treated to caviar, private jets and other peeks into the world of an (alleged) son of a gems tycoon.
But the man from LLD Diamonds turned out not to be a girl’s best friend, robbing his victims of a quarter of a million dollars and their trust. His cruelty certainly puts being stood up at the old Binn’s clock at Edinburgh’s West End into perspective.
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