It’s the early 60s and airplanes are still glamorous. In fact, the whole world is still glamorous. A group of stewardesses aboard a Pan Am flight to London all have personal dramas that unfold in lush, beautiful flashbacks: Maggie is a beatnick living in a shared house with people who want to change the world but don’t want to go out and see it; Laura is a new stewardess who ran away from her wedding day to find adventure; Collette is happy to be reunited with her Rome liasson, and crushed to find that he’s with his wife and kid; Bridget has disappeared, leaving pilot Dean wondering what happened to her; and Kate is a spy, and probably the best part of the show, so far.
This episode is mostly set-up and introduction, but we’ve already got a pretty strong set of characters who all have different goals and reasons for being where they are, and the world they’ve constructed, aside from some gratuitous CGI, is gorgeous and as far as this reviewer can tell, pretty accurate. They’ve managed to convey that flying with Pan Am is a way for a woman to be independent and self-controlled, without beating us over the head with the feminism angle, and they’ve tempered it with a few hints about the downside: philanderers like stewardesses, they have to maintain a perfect image and weight and uniform, they’re never home.
The spy angle is pretty fabulous. It has that golden age of spy stories feel to it, even though Kate is brand new at it and not very good yet. And it keeps a little mystery and a little excitement around what would otherwise be essentially a character drama in a very enclosed space.
It can’t help but be compared to the similarly-time-framed The Playboy Club, and it comes out ahead in most counts, based on pilots alone. The characters are more likable, the decors are much more pretty, the story is more engaging, and the treatment of women is better. We’ll see how they both unfold, but so far, Pan Am is in the lead!
– All the sixties-ness. The dresses, the hair, the cars, the home accessories. Did you see the lady with the turban and the super-cat-eye glasses? Wonderful!
– Spies! With classic spy-missions against classic spy enemies. It isn’t often anymore that the Russians get to be the villains, but since this is the sixties, it’s the Cold War, and that leaves a lot of open space for international adventures.
– In this one episode, we got to see little bits of Rome, London, Cuba and New York. If each episode gives us that many locations, it could be all sorts of beautiful.
– The flashback gimmick is perfect: it lets the backstory unfold however the characters are thinking about it instead of in chronological order, and it gives everyone in that plane something else to do but look pretty and deliver drinks.
– Hopefully, most of the historical references will stay small. If they’re involved in something of Great Historical Significance every week, it might get cheesy–but spying is mostly about being in the background and behind the scenes, so that’s a way to keep it from going that route.
Watch Pan Am Sunday nights on ABC.
Follow Samantha’s tweets about TV and more @pirategirljack. Drop a line!