Sunday, September 25, 2011

'Pan Am'

As I said when I wrote about The Playboy Club last week, Pan Am is easily the better of the two shows that attempt to capture the style and feel of the early 1960s via an iconic brand. While Playboy sometimes feels like an advertisement for its subject, Pan Am has the advantage of showcasing a brand that no longer exists, so the promotional needs are nonexistent. And while Playboy seems desperate to replicate the gravitas of Mad Men, whose success is clearly the inspiration for both shows, Pan Am takes the opposite route, creating a slick, sunny world that's less about the burdens of changing times and more about their exciting opportunities. It's refreshingly female-driven, too, and it portrays women who are grappling with changing gender roles without feeling the need to constantly congratulate itself for its own supposed progressive values.

Kelli Garner is winning as main character Kate, who's forging a new, independent path for herself while being stuck looking after her fragile little sister Laura (Margot Robbie), who's followed Kate into the business of being a Pan Am stewardess. The pilot's subplot about Kate being recruited as an undercover CIA operative is a bit of stumbling block, but it's integrated far better than the crime elements on Playboy, and never seems like it's going to overwhelm the storylines for the other characters. I was especially intrigued by Christina Ricci's Maggie, a free-spirited bohemian who switches gears for her role as a ladylike stewardess. That kind of dichotomy is what the era is all about, and Pan Am manages to illustrate it without needing to awkwardly proclaim its themes.

The same goes for the portrayal of the airline's treatment of women, although there is a bit of history in the pilot involving Cuba that comes off as a little clumsily shoehorned in. The male characters also get shorted on development in the first episode, but that mostly points to future potential rather than shortcomings. I liked Pan Am a whole lot more than I expected I would given its Mad Men-ripoff origins, and I hope it can continue to distinguish itself as its own kind of sexy, stylish show.

Premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC.


Pj Perez said...

I didn't care a whim about seeing this show, but I also didn't realize Christina Ricci was in it.

Guess I'll have to see if Sara saved it on the DVR ...

Josh said...

She's not in it as much as you might expect given how famous she is, but she does a pretty good job.