Review: Pan Am

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: The first episode of ABC’s “Pan Am” took off in technicolor splendor. The first five minutes of the jet-age drama had me almost in tears with the stylistic glory of early 1960s architecture and fashion. As shows like “Pan Am” and “The Playboy Club” attempt to give us “Mad Men” fans our 60s fix until March 2012, it’s important to try to not compare these shows with its Updikean counterpart. We will be disappointed, we will want more grit, we will be furious with these shows who are at least thinking outside of the box compared to the myriads of less interesting shows that swamp prime time. That being said, I’m not going to even begin to compare this show to “Mad Men” because it is an entirely different entity, being on ABC instead of AMC, having a solid enough moral compass, and its play on the unreal and fantastical that surrounds the freedom to fly.

So far, the dynamic between the four main women of the show, Maggie, Laura, Kate, and Colette seems like it will be really interesting to watch. Their dialogue is honest and interesting, and reflect the time in which they live. They also appear to be fairly multi-dimensional despite their uniform smiles and consistent expressions of awe. Kate is doubling as a secret agent during the C0ld War, Maggie is the token brunette beatnik, Laura is a reluctant beauty, and Colette is French and slept with some woman’s husband but is really a good person at heart. Ok, maybe they’re not multi-dimensional, but their dimensions are compelling to watch for their transgressive nature, because it is that which brings them to the skies.

The scene where beautiful Laura plays runaway bride and escapes her beautiful wedding in a beautiful red finned convertible with her sister, Kate, beautifully dressed in red at the wheel was very fun to watch. Though I had seen this scene many times in the promo videos for this show, having the scene framed through Laura’s Polaroid snapshot of newlyweds on the Pan Am plane took Laura outside of the Pan Am framework. By seeing where she came from and what she escaped to be a Pan Am stewardess, she takes on the role of representing what could have been, not just for her, but for the other stewardesses. In this context, marriage is a trap for these ambitious women, and being a stewardess allows them to pursue an independent life through which they can form a bond with each other, and not feel tied to the ground. I’m interested to see where this show is going to take that phenomenon, and how they are going to develop it.

In an enjoyable and intriguing pilot episode, “Pan Am” promises to take us on a journey of take-offs and landings all over the globe, with a stellar soundtrack. I’m eager to see how these characters develop within the small space of the airplane, and the broad expanses of the world. Even if it ends up being fluff, it will be fluff with finesse and style, moderate drama, and pleasing sights along the way.

ZOË RICE: This will sound condescending, but it’s not meant to be: Pan Am is so cute! While lacking the scope of Mad Men or the depth of BBC America’s The Hour, Pan Am‘s panorama and cast manage something rather different; they exude utter charm. In their hands, the intrigue of espionage comes across as harmlessly retro. With the Cold War now decades in the back mirror, even Russian spies are pretty much adorable.

Thankfully Pan Am does not cross the fine line from cute to annoying. You can’t help but empathize with plucky sister-in-the-shadow turned newbie spy Kate, or beautiful good girl Laura, or mistress-with-a-conscious Colette, or just about the cutest little all American pilot you’ve ever seen, Dean. And Kewpie doll Christina Ricci hops around puckishly as beatnik by night, Pan Am gal by day.

And oh, the settings we’ll see all around the world, back to a time when traveling was something at once privileged and sexy and also fresh and somewhat naive. The scenery’s colors are already the stuff of postcards from decades past, a brighter version of original Technicolor, almost as if painted onto film.

Pan Am may be a bit too aware of the fantasy of its version of the 1960s, and the final frames of the series premiere spell that out quite literally. In synchronized slow motion the Pam Am girls appear a bit too contrived and cartoonish. But I have faith that in future episodes I’ll slip back willingly into this world of air travel past, before security lines, full body scans, taking off shoes, liquids in baggies. Air travel continues to be a lot of things these days, but glamorous isn’t one of them.

I have a feeling Pan Am will show us its world only in the height of style.


About Sonia Brand-Fisher

My name is Sonia Brand-Fisher and I am a film studies major at Smith College. Interests include vintage film and fashion, fake-swing dancing to early Standards, cooking lavish meals that stem far outside of my culinary comfort zone, and musing over the implications behind all things aesthetically intriguing.
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