September 26th, 2011
02:33 PM ET
Of the two ‘60s-set new dramas this fall, so far “Pan Am” seems to be the favorite frontrunner. (Sorry, "Playboy Club.")
It’s arguable that ABC’s new show is “Mad Men” inspired, but “Pan Am” doesn’t even pretend to carry the complexity of AMC’s Emmy winner, and that’s OK. Following a soap (“Desperate Housewives,” now in its last season) this series was a fitting bit of glossy escapism when it premiered Sunday night.
“Pan Am” makes the bygone days of plane travel look glamorous and breezy, bouncing around between New York, London and Rome. In this version of the '60s, everything is so shiny and new – I know it was about the past, but the interior of that Pan Am Clipper Jet looked like the dream of the future.
The stewardesses were novel enough at the time to make the cover of Life magazine – well, one of them did, at least: The newbie, Laura. Played by Margot Robbie, she's the sister of the more experienced Pan Am stewardess, Kate (Kelli Garner).
The overarching story hits lightly upon the sexism of the era as the stewardesses are subjected to slaps on the bum to check for girdles and weigh-ins, but to these women, that blue uniform represents a freedom that’s worth it.
Laura, after all, runs away from her wedding because she realizes - after finally making a decision on her own - “I want to see the world.” This doesn’t sit well with her sister Kate, who clearly feels as though she’s lived in Laura’s shadow – and seemingly part of the reason why she skipped out of the suburbs and into a stewardess uniform. But by the end of the premiere, that subplot of tension between the two was essentially resolved.
Each stewardess has some sort of back story, with Maggie's (Christina Ricci) being the most vague at this point, but I was partial to Colette’s. The Cold War espionage scenario was intended to give the story some urgency, but for me it could've been tossed aside for more storylines like hers.
I adored Karine Vanasse's portrayal of the French stewardess, who realized at the worst possible time that her paramour was married, and handled the news with way more grace than many of us would. (I’d also love it if the writers would stop adding in lines to remind us that she’s French – we can hear the accent, thanks.)
Personally, that kind of interaction was far more entertaining than any missing secret spy-stewardess plotline I’m guessing is supposed to carry us through the season. No, I didn’t forget about Bridget (Annabelle Wallis), the aforementioned missing in action stewardess whom Dean the pilot (played by Mike Vogel) was hoping to wed.
Dean's proposal was absurdly mashed up with a Bay of Pigs scenario, done in such a rushed way that it's made me hope they'll either treat historical events with more attention to detail, or just leave them in the background altogether and keep the focus on drama.
And while I prefer my retro dramas with flaws instead of the nostalgic sense of awe "Pan Am" brings, that final shot of the four stewardesses moving in sync as a little girl watches closely was a beautiful one. As the relentlessly flirtatious co-pilot tells us in the end (intending it to be a compliment, he says), “They're not like normal women....They're a new breed."
If “Pan Am” focuses its energy on developing these women, I think ABC has something to build on. If you caught "Pan Am," what did you think?
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