On Sunday, September 25, ABC’s premiere of Pan Am took flight. That night, it rose above Desperate Housewives in ratings with a total of 10.9 million viewers. Obviously, viewers looked forward to a period show that concentrated less on advertising and more on adventure.
Pan Am takes place in the Jet Age, an era in the 1960s when travel was paramount to society after the introduction of a large aircraft that could fly higher and further, across continents and nations. The airplane was a safe, relaxed environment, and it was routine to dress up for a flight, instead of wearing the sweatpants and flip flops we do today. In these planes, there were booths, magazines, and complementary champagne offered to passengers: Pan American World Airways boasted the most luxurious experience.
The show follows four flight attendants, played by Christina Ricci (Maggie), Margo Robbie (Laura), Kelli Garner (Kate) and Karine Vanasse (Collette). Instead of the vapid, unhappy women we see in Mad Men, these ladies are intelligent. They went to college, they are bilingual, and they maintain a sunny disposition even in dire situations.
We get to know these girls through flashbacks, as in real time they soar from New York to London. Each has their own background story: Laura walked out on her wedding day with her sister Kate to travel the world and is soon devastated to find her face on the cover of Life Magazine, Margo has a working knowledge of Marxism and Kantian theory and likes to play by her own rules, Colette discovers that the man she’s been sleeping with in places like Rome and Paris is married, and Kate works for the US government on secret missions under the “perfect cover.” These women are independent in their own ways.
Other characters are the pilot Dean (Mike Vogel), who enters the cockpit at a young age, and stewardess Bridget (Annabelle Wallis), who resigns from the position after Dean proposes an engagement. The mystery surrounding her disappearance concerns even Dean, and her story may be the one with the most depth.
However, while the show’s Pilot only premiered a week ago, it is already accruing critiques left and right. The producers of the show are downplaying smoking (none of the main characters will ever be shown smoking a cigarette), although there is no doubt of its prevalence, especially in planes and airports, in the ‘60s. The music, although sometimes appropriate, seems kitschy and over-emphasized at times, distracting from the plot. And even though Christina Ricci is no doubt the most renowned actress on the show, her character does not get as much airtime as the others. Some may also complain that the show is too airy and even superficial, morphing into a soap opera rather than a drama.
But what’s wrong with a little fun now and then? Pan Am is a refreshing retreat to a majestic world of sleek luxury and aesthetic adventure, and its optimistic angle is just what it needs to stay afloat.
Overall, I give the Pilot a B+, and advise everyone to keep watching for its retro appeal.