‘Pan Am’ Series Premiere Review & Discussion

Published 4 years ago by , Updated January 25th, 2012 at 11:45 am,

screen rant reviews ABCs pan am Pan Am Series Premiere Review & Discussion

ABC’s high-flying period piece debuts tonight. Does Pan Am capture the glamor and romance of jet age travel, or simply imitate the success of a certain other 60′s shows?

Pan Am follows the lives of four stewardesses (not flight attendants) and one pilot, all crewing a brand new jetliner in 1963. Pan American is the biggest airline in the United States, the pilots are gods among men and the stewardesses are icons of freedom and grace. Behind the veil of marketing, the women are subjected to supermodel standards of beauty, which combine with a difficult and nerve-wracking career to set them all on edge. In reality, the pilots… are basically extremely well-trained playboys.

The primary source of drama comes from Maggie (Christina Ricci, Monster) and sisters Kate (Kelli Garner, Going the Distance) and Laura (Margot Robbie). Maggie is the incredibly pragmatic leader of the stewardesses, devoted to the company despite its casual abuse. Her personal relationships are sacrificed to her job – not that she particularly cares.

The larger section of the pilot is devoted to Kate and Laura. Kate is being recruited by a mysterious G-man and given an assignment to bug a soviet operative for Uncle Sam, with the promise of more patriotic service to come. Laura (“the pretty one”) joins with Pan Am after leaving her fiance at the alter. Her popularity is bolstered by being featured on the cover of LIFE Magazine, which instantly re-kindles a lifetime of sibling rivalry.

Mike Vogel Dean Pan Am ABC Pan Am Series Premiere Review & Discussion

Romantic aspects of the show are largely given to pilot Dean (Mike Vogel, Cloverfield) and Colette (Karine Vanasse). Dean is engaged to a former stewardess with a wanderlust, whom we see in a series of flashbacks that permeates the episode. Colette panics when her married boyfriend appears on the group’s first flight with his wife and child.

The first thing that pops out when watching the Pan Am premiere is the branding: if Pan American Airlines hadn’t folded twenty years ago, you’d think this was the biggest piece of scripted advertising since The Wizard. The image of the airline, the industry and the (at least somewhat fictional) culture is seen in every moment of the pilot, making Pan Am a love letter to the era instead of a realistic look at history.

This attitude stretches to the entire production. The computer generated planes and flawless sets sparkle; I’d say there was Vaseline on the lens if it wasn’t in HD. It makes for an enjoyable atmosphere, even if it clashes somewhat with the involved personal dramas being presented. The swingy period music is a real treat for fans of the genre, making the pilot feel more like Catch Me If You Can than Mad Men.

Considering the themes of female liberation that Pan Am is trying to present, it’s rather disappointing that the show falls back on such well-trodden soap opera tropes. The spurned mistress, the ruthless professional and the jealous sister – all of these are characters we’ve seen before. While showing the double standards that women faced fifty years ago quite well, the writers have unfortunately forgotten to show the characters doing anything except tacitly accepting them, even while they’re being presented as “a new breed of woman.” The results can’t help but seem bland.

pan am Vogel Robbie Garner Pan Am Series Premiere Review & Discussion

As for the story itself, there’s a lot to like. The most interesting sections deal with Kate handling spy duties while serving drinks and telling passengers to buckle up. These are more tense than exciting, but they promise a lot more to come. Dean’s pining comes off as a little pathetic until the gotcha moment at the end of the episode, when the stakes for actual danger are raised considerably.

The rest of the characters I could take or leave. Ricci tries her best, but she isn’t given a lot to work with considering that she’s the headliner. Maggie is the same uncompromising career woman we’ve seen dozens of times before, made somewhat unbelievable considering she’ll be given the boot the instant she turns 32. Colette is charming but ultimately irrelevant, at least for now.

The larger problem is an overabundance of leads. This stretches the pilot to the breaking point, often leaving the viewer too confused between the stories of half a dozen characters, all of which get their own flashbacks. (The fetching but identical sky-blue uniforms don’t help.) This is a common problem among TV pilots, and some of the characters will likely fade into the background later into the season, but there’s a definite lack of focus on display.

Christina Ricci Margot Robbie ABC Pan Am Pan Am Series Premiere Review & Discussion

Take the Bay of Pigs flashback: the scene suddenly shifts to months before, where Maggie, Dean and his future bride-to-be are evacuating the last group of prisoners exiles out of Castro’s Cuba on a Pan Am prop plane. This historically significant segment is shoved into a few short minutes just to highlight Dean’s failed relationship, when it could have been a couple of showpiece episodes later on in the series.

If you’re aching for a glittery presentation of 1960s, Pan Am¬† hits the spot. The generous production design, costumes and music are delightful, and they make for a much lighter atmosphere than The Playboy Club. As for the show itself, it seems like a tame version of Grey’s Anatomy, minus the life-and-death drama (though that could easily be coming). While a lack of focus hampers the first episode, those looking for a historical take on ABC’s soap opera formula will be entertained.

Pan Am isn’t hard-hitting social commentary¬†but it’s enjoyable enough. Provided the show can find a more concentrated story (and get people to care about at least some of the leads), it may find a niche despite the bumpy landing.


Pan Am airs on ABC Sunday nights at 10 PM.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelCrider

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151 Comments - Comments are closed.

  1. It’s definitely got me interested.

  2. I loved it, thought it was historically on the mark. You see, I was a Pan Am stewardess from 1969 to 1974. It was a remarkable experience. I got engaged on a 747 on a transit stop of a MAC charter on the ground in Saigon, Vietnam to a very handsome young Navy Lt. who was there on riverboat patrol. We’d only known each other for 30 days. We were married not long after in Honolulu and met again briefly in Hong Kong for what we called our honeymoon. It was incredibly romantic to me. I got to see the world and meet some very incredible people along the way. It was a magical time.

    During this time, we also had planes hijacked and blown up. We dealt with terrorism in a rational manner, with no loss of personal freedoms. Was it scary? Hell, yes. But we got through it without sacrificing our liberties as a nation.

    I’m sorry you did not find this exciting. I will tell you this…it was a BETTER time than now, when passengers were treated well and it was a real treat to get to fly the World’s Greatest Airline.

    • Thank you for your input Linda, it’s fascinating. I think anyone can identify with a nostalgia for better times in air travel (even, ahem, someone who can’t remember seeing Pan Am planes at the airport). Have you thought about chronicling your experiences in a book or something?

      • Times were definitely better back in that era. There is no way that stewardess (flight attendant) would’ve gotten through that airport in such a short time nowadays! She would have been stuck in the security line, etc. Flying has changed where it is just a tad step above being on a bus unfortunately now.
        That era had class, people dressed for events, for traveling. Passengers were treated as valued customers, now we’re just cattle. Sad, we do need nostalgia to come back in so many ways. But this show lacked a good story, but did have terrific sets and also costumes.

      • I have thought about writing about it, but there are many fascinating books on Pan Am. They were an aviation pioneer who quite literally used to fly into the jungles of South America where no other airline was going. That in itself presented interesting problems in stocking and servicing the aircraft.

        In addition to the Bay of Pigs airlift in Cuba, Pan Am also evacuated Saigon when the war was ending and did the famous Operation Babylift, literally filling 2 747s with infants. Sadly, one of those planes crashed on takeoff.

        The most famous people in the world flew Pan Am. And some famous people were flight attendants for Pan Am.

        It has a fascinating history, one that is great to read. Not sure it will make it as a series. There was a time when Pan American aircraft dominated most international airports. You had to be bilingual, be weighed on a scale and conform to their dress code regulations. When you were hired by Pan Am, they sent out a press release announcing it in your city.

  3. I think this will be a big hit for ABC. I really enjoyed the story and this pilot really intrigued me to tune in again next week to see what happens to these women.

  4. Boring. Nothing here to interest other than a good nap.

  5. All Holly Wood
    Attention to detail lacking.
    For instance, the aircraft on decent into London. Look at the Navigation lights. The scene has a red light on the right wing and a green on the left. Pretty lame.
    Having lived through those times, not to believable.
    Back to HBO, Discovery, and History channel for me.
    At least the Sci Fi and fantasy on HBO is somewhat believable.

    • The pilots were too young, too goofy-acting. Most of the airline pilots of the 60′s were old WW2 fighter pilots. That would made them about in their 40′s during the time portrayed in this show.

      • Exactly, Pilots were older! Picking a stewardess
        off the street as a carrier. PLEASE!

    • Yep attention to detail lacking. According to the pamphlet that the passengers were reading they’re on a 707, but the plane looks nothing like a 707 neither it’s turbojet engines…

  6. Worth a few more viewings but American TV always has some trouble with period pieces. The Captain needs a haircut! No man, let alone a pilot, would have had such shaggy hair in 1963, outside a coffee house. Both the captain and the first officer look too young and behaved unprofessionally. Perhaps in future episodes both sides of the coin of the lives of these women will be explored, i.e. stewardesses as sex objects and young women hoping to strike out as independent and adventurous.

  7. I enjoyed the pilot tonight. Love the harking back to easier times when passengers dressed up to fly, and the aisles and seats actually fit people. The stewardesses, to use the old term, had time to make a flight pleasant rather than the rush we have now days, but I guess faster flying times are the sacrifice we make. I had to object to the woman who was nice to Colette only to tell her off, well sweetie, tell your husband to let women know he’s married. But anyway, I liked the gals and the guys playing the pilots (except doesn’t the Captain seem a bit young?) and will continue to watch. Wonder if they’ll have any plane crash in a future episode to show the family feelings that are there when a flight crew goes down. Maybe they intend to only show the personal lives of the employees of Pan Am.

  8. Would like to know who sang the opening song, “around the world”?

      • What was the name of the Julie London song that was featured and what album was it from ??

        Sure would be nice if they included the info in the closing credits like they do in movies.

        • Fly Me To The Moon was the song I think you want but it was recorded by Grace Potter for use in Pan Am.

          • It wasn’t Fly Me To The Moon, it was the song playing when the French stewardess is recalling her first meeting with the man she had just found out was married.

            I’m quite sure it was Julie London, but I’m not familiar with the song.

  9. Would like to know who sang the opening song, “around the world”? This is my first comment. I did not ask this question before

  10. I live in Maryland and fly to Los Angeles quite often to work. I have been doing this for quite a while and the difference between the “good old days” of travel and today are only brought out very vividly by this show. People boarding in cut off shorts, flip flops which they take off as soon as they sit down, and those are the good passengers.
    Oh for those “good old days”

  11. Great premier. Definitely intriguing! Looking forward o the rest o the season

  12. Boring beginning to the serie, hope it gets more interesting, they tried to hard to make it “glamour & light” but did not work for me and I was a stewardess from 1965 to 1980…the produce could have made it more edgy and more dramatic while retaining the feel for the era…I have both hilarious and dangerous experiences for them to tap on, not sure they will have much of a following unless they get us more connected to the characters and by the way even in the 60′s the captains were never that young nor young looking so first “true to life” right from the first shots!

  13. I enjoyed the pilot: a couple of things, the pilots were not that young.
    They didn’t portrayed a latina or any other except anglo-americans. The music was too loud and made it hard to understand the dialogue. But the Class and the way travelers dressed and the “carts of service” were true to life. I flew from 1958 to 1973 and married a passenger (the most wonderful gentleman I have ever known). I will continue to see the series because they were the best years of my life.

    • This IS the sixties we are talking about, and to have a latino/black/non-anglo stewardess would have been quite inaccurate, and I don’t believe that television should be pandering to those people who feel that not all racial groups are being equally represented.

      • have to disagree with you, mohawk airlines a regional airline flying around the east coast and midwest in the usa hired it’s first african american stewardess in 1958. american airlines had african american stewardesses in the mid 1960′s and pilots as well.

      • Adam, you are wrong here. Pan Am went out of their way to hire from all around the world, all colors, all languages. That was what made them famous and their standards so high.

        “She knows here way around the world like most people do their own backyard” or something like that.

        The toughest part was being weighed, wearing that girdle and all the makeup all the time. Try being in the air for over 10 hours, serving 2 meals that you actually cooked yourself, cleaning it all up and walking off that aircraft as if you were fresh as a daisy. Tough work.

    • Maria, where were you based?

  14. The critic is asking for things that the ‘audience’ do not want. Remember Michael Crider, the audience make the decision if a show will go on … By the way, obvbiously, I loved the show a lot, if it stays the way it is, glamorous 1960′s, I will keep on watching it…”opinion of an audience member-a.k.a. the producer, writer, and basically owner of the entire show”

    • Reviews are not be-all, end-all statement of fact. They are considered, experienced opinions designed to allow you to make a decision on whether you want to watch a show or not. The above is my opinion, no more and no less. I don’t presume to speak for anyone else – unlike some other people I could mention.

  15. Really did not like this pilot. It seemed silly and poorly constructed. The plots were just strange and hurried. The acting was awful. I did like the set and costume design but I think many will have trouble connecting with a show about a bunch of white stewardesses flying around the world and flirting with pilots. I don’t even want to start with the whole CIA thing. That was a mind-boggling odd plot line to interject.

  16. From reading many of the comments here, everyone definitely yearns for yesteryear when times were better…..

    • If I could find a place of now that still has the same atmosphere as the 60′s I would move there in a minute.

    • Don’t speak for me. Thank GOD I didn’t live in those times. Yep, no nostalgia for having to walk through a smoke filled supermarket, having 18 year old boys shipped off to a war to die with no choice in the matter or rampant racism. All eras have their good points and bad points, but people tend to look back at certain eras with rose colored glasses, and the 60′s is definitely one of those eras.

  17. I enjoyed the show. My dad worked for Eastern Air Lines and we had many friends at our church who worked for Eastern, Delta and Pan Am in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s, stationed in Miami. Those were definately the glory days of flying and I miss them! I’m sure the reason there was some jumping around in the pilot was to try to fill in the audience on several different stories to watch for in the next few weeks. You have to start somewhere with new characters and a new story. I’m sure it will be more interesting if you give it a few more weeks.

  18. I hope the series does not forget the male pursers

    • Me too, Buddy. We had the best in the business. This is bringing back some wonderful memories.

  19. The pilots were too young, too goofy-acting and about half lame. Most of the airline pilots of the 60′s were old WW2 fighter pilots. That would made them about in their 40′s during the time portrayed in this show.u

  20. Please tell me who sings Around the World in th Pilot of Pan Am I have searched to no avail. Thank you

    • Kit………it is Buddy Greco

  21. I really liked the show. I was just a kid back in the early 60′s, but my family and I flew Pan Am exclusively and quite often. I remember dressing up…eating lobster thermador…and pretending to drink champagne in cyrstal stem-ware…it was just ginger-ale, but I loved it! the stewardesses were exceptional and beautiful…tall, slender, and so service-oriented! I loved the nostalgia of that show…! But, yes…the pilot’s hair did seem a bit shaggy for his position…and, he was young…we’ll see how the show fairs!!

  22. May get better but premier was rather slooooooow.

  23. No interest in this show at ALL.

  24. It appears that most of the folks who liked the show were contemporaries for that time. Sadly, that particular demographic group does not keep shows on the air. If this is the best the network can do to hold it’s audience share, it won’t take too long to say goodbye to Pan Am as well as the network. Right now they have Desperate Housewives (for the last season) and Grey’s Anatomy, and possibly Private Practice. That’s about it.

  25. Sex sells. Try and remember that the majority of the country don’t care to have it shoved down our throats 24/7. If we could program our cables to only accept the shows we wish to watch, you might be surprised at the results. I know many who would prefer to attend a children’s movie or the Discovery Channel than the sex and savagery Hollywood is determined to force upon us. If that’s your idea of good entertainment, that may be why the networks are not doing so well anymore.

    Desperate Housewives is fine, except it is unbelievably and embarrassingly shallow…part of the dumbing down of America. Grey’s Anatomy covers a large audience. I place Private Practice in the same category as Housewives. There are plenty of good shows still on and many new ones about to enter the market.

  26. I agree Linda. And Slymox, that time was the best time ever to grow up! Personally, it’s to the point that I’d rather watch Discovery, History or some more wholesome shows on TV. Sex does sell, but not everything has to be loaded with sex or violence. I hope Pan Am will hold up for us baby boomers. I hate that Desperate Housewives is leaving but nothing lasts forever!

  27. I’d been waiting for this show since I heard it was in the works last spring. I was a Pan Am stewardess from ’66 to ’70, in NY and SFO. The correct quote from the ads, Linda, was “A Pan Am stewardess knows her way around the world the way other girls know their way around the block.” True enough. My issues with the authenticity were Z1′s and Candy’s — the only way a pilot got to captain one of those initial 707s was big-time seniority; They were all gray haired pros. There was very little chacha among crew members, with one mantra from the stews being “I’m nobody’s layover lay!” They’d just invented The Pill, tho, so good times did roll. I’m gonna keep watching.