This Is What Keeps Me Up At Night is a series dedicated to trending memes, pop culture moments and film/TV scenes that stir the very foundations of our being and stop us from getting a single peaceful night’s sleep.
The brain works in mysterious ways. Okay, I take that back. The brain actually works in very scientific ways specific to the well-studied anatomy of the organ. For example, generally speaking, once our eyes have done their thing and we’ve witnessed something – however deplorable it may be and however much we plead mentally for a one-time factory reset – there is just no way to unsee it. At the top of the list of things forever regrettably seared into my retinas this week: the monstrosity that is the thrashing animatronic penis in Pam & Tommy.
Animatronic. Penis. First of all, two cursed words that should never sit next to each other in a sentence. But here I am, begrudgingly typing them out, because until you’ve seen what I've seen, you won’t understand the anguish.
Let’s backtrack a little. The internet has been ablaze with excitement ever since the first promo images started to trickle through of Lily James and Sebastian Stan, who have undergone outrageous transformations into '90s icons Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee for new Disney+/Hulu series Pam & Tommy. The makeovers are jaw-droppingly spot on: from the Baywatch star’s pencil-thin brows, perma tan and hefty prosthetic boobs to the Mötley Crüe drummer’s tattoos, facial mannerisms and penchant for prancing around in a studded leather G-string. Neither Pamela nor Tommy is formally associated with the project, which chronicles the couple’s mad-dash beach elopement, their infamous stolen sex tape and their role in the rise of '90s celebrity gossip. The series also touches upon themes of double standards, gender expectations and consent, as well as the birth of the internet. Pressing play, I knew I was in for some raunch but what I did not expect was to be blindsided in the worst way possible, 21 minutes into the second episode.
At this point of the eight-episode saga we’ve seen how disgruntled employee Rand Gauthier (played by Seth Rogen) broke in and stole the couple's internet-making-and-breaking sex tape. In the second episode we go back in time, witnessing the couple’s fateful first meet in a nightclub on New Year’s Eve. Tommy then flies out, uninvited, to surprise Pamela on a shoot and after a night of hedonism and ingestion of mind-expanding substances, we hear Tommy in the bathroom, having an epiphany and speaking to someone (or something?).
"I’m in love. I think she’s the one," he says breathlessly. We see him having a heart-to-heart conversation with a gruff, croaky voice off-camera (voiced by comedian and actor Jason Mantzoukas) – but wait, why is he looking downwards? All of a sudden, the camera drops us waist height with Tommy and we’re faced with a huge, twitching penis that shakes grotesquely up and down like a fist, reproaching him for falling in love so quickly. "Tommy, you’re not thinking clearly!" In rather painful-looking fashion, it twirls and bends at a 90-degree angle to face him, its – I hate to say it, but there's no other way – meatus mouth (MOUTH!) chatting away, trying to persuade him to stay in the single lane. But Tommy has made his decision. The screen fades to black and I am scarred for my remaining days on this planet.
The show’s writer Robert Siegel has said in interviews that the talking penis scene wasn’t his own invention but picked out from Tommy’s autobiography, Tommyland. The filming process (which has been described as "just awkward") apparently required a team of specialist technicians, with director and executive producer Craig Gillespie admitting: "You’ve got four puppeteers working with an animatronic penis."
Now, let’s be clear. I have nothing but respect for the sheer technological mastery required to pull off such a horror show. To this day I’m perplexed by how real the dinosaurs look in Jurassic Park. I lost my shit at the life-size animatronic Buckbeak the hippogriff at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London. But never in my life did I think I would have to bear witness to writhing robotic genitals fastened to the groin of Marvel actor Sebastian Stan (one of the good ones). Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimised by the animatronic penis in Pam & Tommy.
Pam & Tommy is out on 2nd February on Disney+