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From a punchline to real people
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From a punchline to real people

When I started watching Pam and Tommy, the seven-part docudrama about the infamous sex tape that became the first viral video, I admit I was looking for cheap thrills.

A similarly COVID-risk-averse friend and I have a standing date to watch trashy TV while on the phone together, and the Hulu/Disney+ show about Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee seemed to fit the bill.

I wasn’t really expecting the series to be funny and well-made, let alone make me feel any sympathy for a notoriously reprehensible human being.

Sebastian Stan and Lily James play Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson in "Pam & Tommy." (Erin Simkin/Hulu)

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve read the band’s oral history, The Dirt, and I have no respect for any of the reprobates who make up Mötley Crüe.

In fact, having to review their 1999 Winnipeg Arena show was one of the nails in the coffin of my music writing career.

I’m no hair-metal aficionado, but I grew up in the ‘80s and I have enough nostalgic appreciation for the glitter, glam and guitar licks of the genre to enjoy a good concert. However, when Lee, who was just coming off serving time for spousal abuse, had a spotlight scan the arena and encouraged any woman it landed on to “show us your t-ts” (sadly, many complied), I felt a soul-deep sense of second-hand abasement that made me realize this was perhaps not the correct line of work for me.

That said, the concert also provided a moment of surprising warmth — a window, however small, into the band’s humanity.

The Crüe was on its Greatest Hits Tour, but evidently those hits weren’t great enough to draw a full arena — grunge had eclipsed glam-metal by ‘99 — so the venue was cut in half to form a concert bowl.

This meant that from where reviewers were perched, up in the catwalk high above the seats, I could see down to a little green room area that was curtained off beside the stage.

In between the main set and the encore, the band members gathered for a quick feathered-hair refresher, a lot of hairspray and head-tossing that called to mind the girls’ bathroom in my junior high, where a fog of Final Net hung heavy in the air. It was weirdly sweet.

Motley Crue performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Powers Imagery/Invision/AP)

And then all four collected in a circle and put their hands, one on top of the other, in the centre before raising them exultantly in a gesture familiar from peewee soccer games everywhere. It felt like a time-honoured ritual, something they’d been doing since their scrappy Sunset Strip days, when all they had to their names was a single Maybelline eyeliner and shared case of chlamydia, but dammit, they were happy. It made them seem human, a bit silly, relatable.

From what I’ve watched so far, Pam and Tommy — which stars an unrecognizable Lily James (Downton Abbey) and Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) — has the same effect, taking the notoriously cartoonish couple from a punchline to real people. (Of course, the empathy you feel is in direct conflict with the fact the you’re still enjoying a salacious tale that takes advantage of their pain: actor/director Lake Bell, who worked on the series, talked about this with Tom Power on Q this week.)

And be warned, it also features a digitally enhanced talking penis (voiced by a frequent portrayer of scumbags, Jason Mantzoukas of Big Mouth and Brooklyn 99). Keep in mind this show airs on Disney+; I imagine ol’ Walt is either spinning in his cryogenic chamber or trying to figure out ways to place the chatty character in the pantheon of famous Disney sidekicks: Tinkerbell, Jiminy Cricket, Tommy’s Giant Schlong.

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson

What’s up this week

Wow. We’re back, baby, with a bevy of live events kicking off as pandemic restrictions loosen.

This year’s The Bridge: A Festival of Ideas at Royal MTC, curated by Kim Wheeler, is focused on our planet in peril, explored via plays, panels and conversations.

The live performance of Sea Sick, written and performed by Alanna Mitchell, runs from tonight to March 19 at Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre. The Guardian called the science journalist’s adaptation of her own book “an unravelling – an unveiling – of a crisis; a clear-eyed pathway toward comprehension and a knitting together of the important, largely siloed work of marine biologists across the world.” Tickets are $22.25 at royalmtc.ca.

Digital programming includes the audio play Bike Jelly, an exploration of Winnipeg cycling (it’s downloadable so you can complete your own self-guided bike tour); a streaming performance of the documentary theatre work The Chemical Valley Project starring Kevin Matthew Wong; and online sessions of an interactive installation project by Outside Eye called Nervous Climate: Phase One (your contributions will appear in the finished installation). Sign up to receive links to online programming here.

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Canadian nomad indie-folk artist Tennyson King, who has just released his new album, Good Company, will be playing Trans Canada Brewing Co. today at 7 p.m. as a part of his cross-country album tour. The Hong Kong-born artist has been compared to John Mayer and Jack Johnson; the show is free.

Canadian nomad indie-folk artist Tennyson King has just released his new album, ’Good Company’. (Photo by Savannah Bagshaw)

Freeze Frame International Festival for Kids runs March 6-13 with a slate of English- and French-language movies, and a mix of in-person and digital screenings. Among the offering are the 2020 animated fantasy Wolfwalkers (in person), feel-good comedy My Dad Is a Sausage (online) and the adventure The Path (both). Screenings take place at Centre culturel franco-manitobain at 340 Provencher Blvd. Tickets and more info available at freezeframeonline.org.

Still from the feel-good comedy ’My Dad Is a Sausage’. (Supplied)

The Winnipeg Comedy Showcase returns to the Park Theatre today at 8 p.m.. Featuring Chad Anderson, Jaydin Pommer, Jon Wilson, Angie St. Mars, Garrett Leblanc, Tyler Kotowski and hosted by Jared Story, this is the 28th edition of the always sold-out event. Tickets are $15 at Eventbrite or $20 at the door.

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Sam Heughan promises fuller storylines and ‘really great performances’ as ‘Outlander’ returns for Season 6

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Evolution of Mennonite literature focus of lecture

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