|written by Jack Orman / directed by Thomas Schlamme|
starring Christina Ricci, Margot Robbie, Michael Mosley, Karine Vanasse & Mike Vogel
The Playboy Club because its backdrop is indisputably fascinating instead of merely titillating, and it remembers to focus on the women at the centre of this once-glamorous occupation. Directed by Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing), there's a lovely sweep and momentum to this aviation soap, but also a whitewashing of historical accuracy by writer Jack Orman (ER)—who doesn't even touch on the sexism of the era, and seems to think the Bay Of Pigs' evacuation of exiles from Cuba was mainly handled by Pan Am aircrew. The former is hopefully intentional, to show us the jet age fantasy sold to readers of LIFE magazine, before showing us a darker reality over time, but I have a suspicion Pan Am doesn't have Mad Men-esque social realism very high on its agenda.
I was expecting to dislike Pan Am, but it was an enjoyable and smoothly delivered drama. This isn't a cynical show, it's a reverent view of the Jet Age that's especially nostalgic given today's sinister associations with air travel post-9/11. It's appealing to be reminded that in 1963 anything to do with aviation was the epitome of glamour, and this pilot does a brilliant job making you buy into the romance of airports and quaffing champagne at 34,000 feet. Sleek silver passenger jets turning on the tarmac, women in deep blue uniforms striding purposefully through terminals (watched enviously by a little girl, face pressed to a window), the elegance of the in-flight experience, and a reminder of the magic when the cabin doors open and—voila!—Ne w York has transformed into London. It's still an experience to travel overseas today by plane (even on a budget airline), but it must have been unimaginably thrilling 50 years ago when such travel was the cutting-edge of technology. There's a take-off scene that makes you think the passengers may as well be rocketing to the Moon, such is the air of anticipation.
The cast were immediately engaging (particularly Ricci, Robbie and Garner), and this pilot delivered the feeling of romance, glamour and social optimism it's aiming for. A few of the characters and storylines were captivating enough to draw you back—especially Laura finding herself recruited by a British spy, and Ricci's intrinsic mysteriousness (no flashback for her yet)—and it all looked fabulous, despite the occasional artifice of a CGI jet or some hazy greenscreen. It's just a shame Pan Am isn't as intelligently written as Mad Men, and doesn't appear to be offering much beyond rose-tinted escapism and soapy drama. But you can never judge a show on its pilot, so Pan Am could yet soar to unexpected highs.
- 1963 was the year Pan Am Flight 214 crashed in Maryland after being struck by lightning, killing all 81 people on board. I can't see how this show can avoid dramatizing that event, or at the very least referencing it, which could be interesting given how upbeat and positive the pilot is about air travel.
- BBC2 have bought Pan Am for UK broadcast. As much as I enjoyed this pilot, I think I'll be waiting for the show to arrive here to continue watching. I don't envisage reviewing it every week anyway.