30.10.11

Pan Am Takes Off

 

 One of my new favorite television shows is climbing in the ratings.  If you havent checked it out, I would highly recommend it.  Its a great show that feels very nostalgic and takes you back to a time when air travel was considered to be high class and you were treated to high class service, unlike now when you are lucky to get a defrosted meal or a maybe a bag of peanuts much less service with a smile!

 

Coffee, Tea or Nostalgia?

Younger siblings know how hard it is to live up to a gifted firstborn.
Any series that sets itself in the early 1960s is going to have to slink around the reflection of “Mad Men.” This season there are two: “The Playboy Club” and, beginning on Sunday, “Pan Am,” an ABC drama about stewardesses back when jet travel was glamorous, and so was serving drinks at 30,000 feet.
As a premise “Pan Am” sounds foolhardy, a knockoff that can’t possibly live up to the original, like a network trying to copy “The Sopranos” with a series about a ring of car thieves in Indianapolis.
The difference is that “Pan Am” romanticizes the past, whereas “Mad Men,” on AMC, takes pleasure in slyly mocking antiquated mores. Secretaries at Don Draper’s ad agency marvel at an electric typewriter, a mom at a pastoral family picnic tosses the trash onto pristine park grounds, a child who plays with a dry-cleaning bag is scolded, not for the risk, but for mussing the clothes inside. “Mad Men” evokes nostalgia for a careless, less restrictive way of life, floating on a permissive wash of sex, booze and cigarettes, but it never stops sending up the naïveté and backward biases of those times.
“Pan Am” takes place in New York, Paris and London, and practically every scene is shot in lush, golden light. The series is a paean to a more prosperous and confident era; even an airline terminal looks like a movie dream sequence about 1960s heaven.
“Mad Men,” which returns for a fifth season next year, is unquestionably a far better show, but “Pan Am,” like “The Playboy Club,” which began on NBC this week, may be a more accurate reflection of our own insecurities. When the present isn’t very promising, and the future seems tapered and uncertain, the past acquires an enviable luster.
“Mad Men” is veined with injustices: the way women are overlooked, blacks are ignored and Jews despised. “Pan Am” takes a more forgiving look at the 1960s. Nancy Hult Ganis, a former Pan Am stewardess, is an executive producer and appears to have looked back at her youthful escapades with a softening lens: a little like Helen Gurley Brown, who shocked people at the height of the Anita Hill sexual-harassment controversy with her fond memories of office panty pranks.
Some blatant forms of sexism are gently tweaked on “Pan Am” but with more affection than regret. Female flight attendants have mandatory weigh-ins and a matron slaps one employee on the fanny to make sure she is wearing a girdle. But the young women who submit do so with a smile; petty airline rules are a small price to pay for the newfound freedom to travel and seek adventure. A pilot, observing the crew’s laughter and confidence, admiringly tells another that these young women form “a new breed.”
Viewers may not see anything particularly fresh about this show’s foursome of stewardesses, however. The “Pan Am” heroines represent the dawning of the women’s movement, and they are not fully formed characters so much as stick figures borrowed from a Rona Jaffe novel.
Christina Ricci plays Maggie, a closet beatnik who wears the Pan Am uniform to see the world but at home listens to jazz and studies Marx and Hegel. Colette (Karine Vanasse) is French and carefree, until she discovers that her latest lover is a married man. Kate (Kelli Garner) is smart and ambitious, and she dreads being overshadowed by her pretty younger sister, Laura (Margot Robbie). Laura, a runaway bride who follows her sister into the airline business, is so gorgeous that Life magazine puts her picture on its cover article about the Clipper Age. “With a face like that you’ll find a husband in a couple of months,” a fellow stewardess tells her. But Laura and the others are looking for adventure and romance, not marriage.
ABC is the home of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives” and “The Bachelor,” so the emphasis on “Pan Am” is not traffic control or air safety. The show does try to broaden the story with a few cold war subplots: a Pan Am flight crew is assigned to help retrieve survivors of the Bay of Pigs disaster in Castro’s Cuba; British counterintelligence agents use airline employees to spy and pass secrets. Mostly, though, the espionage feels like padding, a way to assure viewers that they are not just watching early prototypes of Carrie Bradshaw and her posse — “Sex and the Cockpit.”
If only for the costumes and ’60s music, “Pan Am” is amusing to see at least once, but if it has any instructive benefit at all, it’s as a mood indicator for these times, not those. There have been plenty of series set in earlier times — “That ’70s Show” was set in the Carter administration, “M*A*S*H” took place during the Korean War. But usually period shows pick through the past to meditate on the present, whether it’s examining generational rites of passage or critiquing the Vietnam War at a safe remove.
“Pan Am” doesn’t say much of anything about the current state of the nation except that our best days are behind us.

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