'Pan Am' has a lot to keep track of, but is fun drama
‘Pan Am’ harkens back to a simpler era of air travel, but does it make for a good TV show? Read our review to find out.
Does Pan Am capture the glamor and romance of jet age travel, or simply imitate the success of a certain other 60′s shows?Skip to next paragraph
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Pan Am follows the lives of four stewardesses (not flight attendants) and one pilot, all crewing a brand new jetliner in 1963. Pan American is the biggest airline in the United States, the pilots are gods among men and the stewardesses are icons of freedom and grace. Behind the veil of marketing, the women are subjected to supermodel standards of beauty, which combine with a difficult and nerve-wracking career to set them all on edge. In reality, the pilots… are basically extremely well-trained playboys.
The primary source of drama comes from Maggie (Christina Ricci, Monster) and sisters Kate (Kelli Garner, Going the Distance) and Laura ( Margot Robbie). Maggie is the incredibly pragmatic leader of the stewardesses, devoted to the company despite its casual abuse. Her personal relationships are sacrificed to her job – not that she particularly cares.
The larger section of the pilot is devoted to Kate and Laura. Kate is being recruited by a mysterious G-man and given an assignment to bug a soviet operative for Uncle Sam, with the promise of more patriotic service to come. Laura (“the pretty one”) joins with Pan Am after leaving her fiance at the alter. Her popularity is bolstered by being featured on the cover of LIFE Magazine, which instantly re-kindles a lifetime of sibling rivalry.
Romantic aspects of the show are largely given to pilot Dean (Mike Vogel, Cloverfield) and Colette (Karine Vanasse). Dean is engaged to a former stewardess with a wanderlust, whom we see in a series of flashbacks that permeates the episode. Colette panics when her married boyfriend appears on the group’s first flight with his wife and child.
The first thing that pops out when watching the Pan Am premiere is the branding: if Pan American Airlines hadn’t folded twenty years ago, you’d think this was the biggest piece of scripted advertising since The Wizard. The image of the airline, the industry and the (at least somewhat fictional) culture is seen in every moment of the pilot, making Pan Am a love letter to the era instead of a realistic look at history.
This attitude stretches to the entire production. The computer generated planes and flawless sets sparkle; I’d say there was Vaseline on the lens if it wasn’t in HD. It makes for an enjoyable atmosphere, even if it clashes somewhat with the involved personal dramas being presented. The swingy period music is a real treat for fans of the genre, making the pilot feel more like Catch Me If You Can than Mad Men.