Thursday, September 29, 2011

REVIEW: Pan Am

ABC - Sundays 10 pm ET

With an assorted cast headed by Christina Ricci, Pan Am attempts to depict "golden age of flying" and especially the stewardesses and pilots that ran the buses in the sky.

The biggest problem with Pan Am is that it doesn't really know what kind of show it wants to be. Is it a romance? A mystery? A crime procedural? A character study in the 1960s feminization?

It's fine if a show wants to exude all these ideas and concepts, but it needs to decide which one it is primarily.

1. Does it entertain me?
For the most part, no. The pilot was not especially entertaining and bordered on boring throughout most of the show. It wasn't until the final 10 minutes where I actually found myself involved and actually caring about what I was watching. It was in these final 10 minutes that the majority of the season-long narrative was set up, with mysteries about where a missing stewardess went, why she chose a replacement for her, why no one is smoking on the airplane even though this is clearly the 1960s.

The reason that Pan Am is on the air right now is one simple reason: Mad Men. Because AMC's 4-time Best Drama Emmy Winner is so successful, the networks are no trying to duplicate its formula. But the main problem with this is that Mad Men has brilliant writing and fantastic actors, and none of that is at work here in the pilot of Pan Am.

2. Is it realistic?
Mad Men also has the luxury of being on a network that allows limited swearing and much more mature themes. ABC does not grant to Pan Am the same liberties that are necessary for accurately recreating the 60s. Mad Men embraces their decade in order to explore the story, but Pan Am seems afraid of it, mostly because of ABC.

This is something that could all be cleared up in future episodes as well, as the show could very well move into the women's movement and the allure of being a stewardess. The problem is that it might not do so with complete realism.

However, this might not be the goal of the show. Pan Am could very well be a Sunday night popcorn drama, with mystery and intrigue and sexiness, but something that very rarely breaks new ground and does not desire to. Which is fine, we are never going to have another Lost.

3. Are immoral actions defended?
This is the 1960s after all. There's going to be sex everywhere and on every continent. The question is, does the show fully defend it or act like this is no big deal?

The one torrid affair that we were shown in the first episode was between a stewardess and an American businessman. The man's wife discovers it and politely admonishes the stewardess, leaving her looking forlorn like she was the victim.

This might come into play later as we get into the espionage aspect of the show, but that could be a whole other article.

4. How does the show deal with the family and traditional family values?
The only other relationship depicted (aside from one stewardess leaving her man at the altar, which is fine, because it doesn't sound like it would've been a good marriage to begin with) involves one of the central mysteries of the show: namely what happened to the pilot's fiancee?

It's never a good idea to being a marriage that is seemingly forced, and that's what appears to be happening with the above situation. So we'll let that slide.

The Italian stewardess has no regard for her affairee's (is that a word) wife, but she also says she didn't know he was married. Which lets the affair of the hook, but not the pre-marital sex part. That's still bad.
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In short, Pan Am is plagued by what many new shows often are, namely too much exposition and not enough development. There is a very strong possibility that this will be taken care of as the first season continues, but it could also go completely the other way, bore the heck out of the audience, get low ratings, get cancelled and send Christina Ricci back to doing dark indy projects.

Pan Am is a show loaded with potential and possibilities. It all depends on if it has the writers to get it to where it wants to be.

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