ABC's new show Pan Am took flight this past Sunday night (airline-related pun completely intentional), and I finally got around to watching the debut today. It's clearly yet another attempt to capitalize on the wild success of cable's Mad Men. I've never been a regular Mad Men viewer -- the few times I've seen it, I've been turned off by the show's penchant for pushing the envelope, if you will (well-written and thought-provoking it may be, but it's not for me). Whereas Mad Men is a gritty exploration of 1960s mores and attitudes, if the pilot episode is any indication, Pan Am is a glossy, soapy, and above all FUN glimpse into one of the most glamorous and adventurous careers a woman could have in 1963 -- that of a Pan Am stewardess.
This show has a look like nothing I've seen on network television, not in recent memory at any rate -- slick and glossy, the colors positively pop off the screen. Every frame of film is packed with fabulous detail, from the sets, clothing, and props to the fantastic hairstyles (the perfectly-coiffed children seen staring in reverential awe at the handsome captains and gorgeous stewardesses are adorable!). Is this an idealized presentation of 1960s air travel? Sure, probably -- but the fact remains that air travel used to be a lot more glamorous than it is now. *wink* What I wouldn't give to travel back in time for a day to fly on a Pan Am Clipper Jet in the airline's heyday. And I had no idea that a requirement for stewardesses was that they be college-educated, unmarried, and under the age of thirty-two -- and the four stewardesses at the center of this show are all bi- or tri-lingual. Color me impressed.
The series begins with the recently promoted (and quintessentially all-American, perfectly gelled hair to boot) Dean (Mike Vogel) eager to take on his first assignment -- flying the brand-new Clipper Majestic on its inaugural New York to London flight. His co-pilot is the devilishly cocky Ted (Michael Mosley). The flight crew is made up of three stewardesses and a lead purser. The stewardesses are the warm-hearted French Collette (Karine Vanasse) and the eager to prove herself Kate (Kelli Garner), who is followed by her younger sister Laura (Margot Robbie), the latter fleeing a broken engagement and testing her wings in the wide world for the first time. Maggie (Christina Ricci) is a last-minute replacement for the MIA purser Bridget (Annabelle Wallis), Dean's on-again, off-again (and uber-mysterious) love interest who stands to break his heart (READ THE SIGNALS DEAN!).
We quickly get a series of flashbacks that introduce us to the pasts of several of the main players. Colette thought she'd found love with a regular passenger she had a romantic rendezvous with in Rome, until he shows up with his friggin' family. Colette is crushed (good for her!), and has to endure a humiliating smackdown by the man's wife when the plane arrives in London. Laura, the gorgeous Cameron sister, fled her wedding with the aide of the more adventurous Kate (the latter the bane of her mother's existence for her willingness to flout convention. With her sister following her career footsteps, Kate has the pressure of living in Laura's shadow at the workplace, as well as some Cold War drama as a recently recruited spy by a U.S. intelligence agent (Jeremy Davidson). Her first assignment is swapping passports for a Russian passenger (David Harbour), a task that isn't as straightforward as it first appears.
Ted and Maggie receive the short shrift in this episode, but I'm hopeful that will be rectifed quickly in subsequent episodes. Ted strikes me as the kind of guy whose bravado masks a world of hurt and uncertainty. And Maggie -- she's the very definition of sassy. In her off-time she's as bohemian and unconventional as they come, the complete opposite of the straight-laced regulations that define her work. But she's driven to see the world and so she makes it work -- and I look forward to more insight into what drives her character.
Pan Am's pilot episode is a glorious hour of fast-paced, glossy, escapist entertainment. I loved every second of it. The entire look of the production, right down to the lushly cinematic score (courtesy of Blake Neely) gave the show's maiden voyage the feel of an event. And the songs -- the songs used in this episode were brilliant choices -- I especially approve of the two or three Bobby Darin selections (and if that WASN'T Darin, I'll be shocked!). Could this show be characterized as melodramatic? Yes, sure -- but the moments of soapiness and melodrama are balanced by genuine emotion and eager, nicely nuanced performances. Pan Am looks to be a glossy, nostalgic, escapist fantasy -- I look forward to the show's next flight! :) If you caught the premiere I'd love to hear your thoughts!