What, you thought we forgot Sunday? Not even! Today, Brian Boone looks at the other TV series influenced by AMC’s Mad Men (don’t try to deny it, ABC). Buckle your seat belts and please place your trays in the upright position. Here is the review of Pan Am.
Hey, you know those awesome vintage ’60s Pan Am bags? They based a TV show on those. Well, and also on two or three episodes of Mad Men with the sound turned off. All in all, Pan Am is gorgeously shot, gloriously detailed and rendered, fun to look at…but then it runs out of material.
Pan Am really was a big deal in the ’60s, when any kind of air travel itself was still a novelty. That’s because Pan Am was the first to fly overseas, had the biggest planes, and the coolest stewardess outfits. The pilot episode of Pan Am, then, plays up this novelty with a lot of newness—it’s the pilot’s first flight as a lead pilot, it’s the first flight for a couple of the stewardesses, and it’s the maiden voyage of a gigantic new luxury plane, one with wide aisles, plenty of leg room, and lots of little rooms for the crew to have private conversations with each other and the married men who are their lovers who just happen to be on this flight.
Comparisons to Mad Men are of course going to happen with Pan Am, but the thing about Mad Men is that very few people actually watch it. It is a cult show with only a handful of a few million viewers. It’s extremely influential for its looks, not necessarily its content. Mad Men has something to say— it gives an accurate portrait of the changing world as seen through the eyes of regular men and women in the ’60s, one of endless glass ceilings and sexual objectification for women. Pan Am, meanwhile, argues that being a woman in the ’60s was totally awesome because none of that bad stuff existed, and that being a stewardess was glamorous and empowering and that there were a lot of cool fonts and suits.
Pan Am is a soap. A very stylized, well-packaged soap that presents such a beautiful world to behold that it’s fun to take a walk through and just admire the ’60s airports, the ’60s magazines, the ’60s cocktail bottles, and the ’60s haircuts. But candy-colored skylines and super-blue stewardess outfits can’t sustain a show for 100 episodes. Or even one episode. The show’s makers seem to realize this about a third of the way into the pilot of Pan Am, because that’s when they start introducing backstories via flashback for its interchangeable cast of photogenic flight crew members. Oh, and one of the stewardesses is a spy, and she has to take down a creepy Russian guy who is probably a secret agent. These two worlds—frothy ’60s stuff that shows how glamorous it was to be an air waitress, and over-the-top spy nonsense—just don’t mix. But this is a show that airs at the end of primetime on Sunday nights, right before bed and the beginning of the work-week. Pan Am isn’t excellent television, but it is escapist, and there’s certainly a place for that.