‘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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  1. Liked the story line, but was disappointed that the loud music drowned out the dialogue at times…was hard to hear what was being said.

    • I agree! My husband and I turned the show off because it was so hard to hear dialog. What’s up with the back round music? I have noticed it on other shows (CSI) too. Sensory overload… turn down the music!

  2. I agree with everyone who said times were better in the early 60′s. People were more respectful of one another. Ladies wore stockings and men wore ties and shined their shoes. Airline passengers definitely had a better experience; no groping or standing in a security line for over an hour. What interests me about Pan Am is being able to catch a glimpse of that era again. I hope the show continues to show us what the social atmosphere was like before pantyhose and the drug culture took over and everything changed.

  3. I worked for an airline in the ’60s. On this show everything looked too “new” and made for TV. New uniforms, new (fake) plane, all very clean like they’d never been used before….no dirt, spills or oil leaks. The pilots, to be flying a large commercial jet, could not have been that young. While attractive and generally sleep-arounds, pilots were more wizened/old.

    • Claude, did you ever have the pleasure of flying Pan Am? A small fortune was spent on those designer uniforms. The dress code and expected standards unbending. I’m willing to bet those might even be original uniforms. My former Pan Am roommate showed me a site on Ebay about 9 years ago where Pan Am uniforms were selling for over $2500 each. The ones I wore were disigned by Evan Piccone. As for the plane mockup, they stated it was a brand new airplane they were flying. The only thing that looked “off” to me was the youth of the Captain an the shaggy hair.

      Only one other airline I ever traveled on even came close to Pan Am standards, and that airline was Cathay Pacific, a government subsidized carrier. I don’t even know if they are still in business.

      • On 707′s, there was always a navigator’s seat behind the pilot. What happened?

      • First, those ARE NOT the original uniforms. Second, you could spend all the money you want on the show, the fact is money won’t fix the problems with the story lines. The plane mock-up, the uniforms, hair, the branding are great, but are not significantly integrated into the story. The airline is merely a grabber. It could take place on a boat, a train, or in a tree house, because Pan AM World Airlines is ultimately irrelevant to the many confusing story lines. There is no chemistry between the girls, or the pilots, passengers, or anyone else. ABC needs to stop waisting money on a show that only has nostalgia flying for it.

    • I agree. I was a Pan Am Stewardess in 1970. I understand the wife of someone involved in the production of this was also a stewardess for Pan Am however,a few important bones-to-pick: the color of the uniforms is wrong an important point since it was called “Pan Am Blue” (but not that BLUE), ok maybe for film they had to change it but we NEVER wore hats or gloves while serving people on the plane, our hair was NOT allowed to hang below the jaw-line,the pilots were grey-haired, ALL World War II or Korean War vets, NEVER young dudes with SIDEBURNS (wasn’t that the 70s? Come on make-up people!)And Ricci’s job as “Purser” was traditionally a chubby older (50-60 yr old) MAN, not a swish young stewardess

      • Nino, please say hello to Bob for me. He hired me to work for CCC. :-)

      • I was just going to say the same thing…Pan Am Pilots in 1963 were veteran military pilots. THAT was the first glareing problem I had with the show.

    • I heard from Hollywood that they changed the pilots in midstream to be younger. The talent was not very athentic. But always fun to watch as entertainment.

  4. One of the parts I really loved in this show? The end when the little girl has her nose pressed to the glass watching the four stewardesses with that look of admiration on her face, and then the last one in the line looks back and acknowledges her. Back in the late 60s/early 70s, I was that little girl, so I could definitely relate to that part of it. To me, being a stewardess seemed so glamorous because those ladies seem to have it together, a lot more together than many of the women I saw when I was growing up in a housing project not far from Cleveland Hopkins airport. My mother wasn’t a stewardess. She wouldn’t have made the cut due to her age and because she had 3 kids, but she could’ve easily passed for one because she was just as pretty as they were! I miss the era when women and men really did take more care with their appearance. Nowadays, I see young men showing up at job interviews wearing sagged pants and t-shirts with vulgar sayings on them, and women who look like they’ve been dragged by a Mack Truck or they’re dressed like streetwalkers! Both genders these day tend to act very low class, and they seem proud of it. I think that’s really a shame. Yes, I miss that part of the 60s…that was MY mother’s and my ’60s, the ’60s of the silent majority, the ones who worked for a living and did their best to be decent citizens, not the overrated hippies, protestors and malcontents we hear about infinitum ad nauseum. It’s a story that is all too often overlooked…and it’s high time the story was told.

    • The “Silent Majority” was made up of a bunch of gutless people who sat idly by while so-called protesters and malcontents railed against the greatest social injustices of the time. The Pan Am crowd didn’t care because they had the money to live well and fly around the globe at their leisure. They also made it their business to make sure their world remained lily white as long as possible. They didn’t change their hiring practices until legal pressure was brought to bear by the “protesters and malcontents”.

      • Jordon: I’ve been a professional woman all my life. It doesn’t take malcontents and protestors to make change. Generally, I find those doing the most protesting are those putting the least effort in.

        While I wasn’t there with this sort of descrimination I was there when they were sued to stop weighing and measuring us. I agree whole heartedly with that decision, however, it brought with it the end of a way of travel not seen since those times.

        I don’t think the producers of Pan Am are trying to moralize anything. I think they are trying to focus on an historic time frame. And I think they are doing a pretty good job. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

        • Linda H: I really don’t care about your professional status as a woman. For all I know you could be a hooker. And don’t try to tell me what to watch. Being a former Pan Am stewardess doesn’t give you the right to tell people what to watch. If I want to watch this stupid show and complain about it afterwards, that’s my business. I’m not interested in helping you wax nostalgia or maintain your version of the status quo. But I will tell you this. If the ratings continue to drop like a rock, you won’t have to worry about me or anybody else watching this show – including you.

          And of course you didn’t notice any racial discrimination – they hired you, so there was nothing for you to complain about.

  5. I’m a big fan of Mad Men, so I was very interested in this new show. Hoping to go back in time when I was a small child growing up. I have to say I was not impressed. It did not make me feel like it was the 1963. The music was loud at times and the story line was dull. I will watch one more show and hope it gets better, if not I will have to wait till next year when Mad Men returns.

  6. Did anyone else happen to find it odd that the CIA agent was posing as a Russian citizen travelling pan am? Could this have even been possible during the cold war? I also noticed the passport he was carrying was a modern Russian passport, looking almost identical to the current Russian passports issued today. It would have been a Soviet Union ppt at the time and under the soviet regime you didn’t have too many soviet tourists. You’d be lucky to leave your own city in those days. Perhaps I’m going a bit too deep with this but you would think a show of this magnitude would have some consultants to ensure some historical accuracy. Just my two cents…

  7. I seldom watch normal TV shows but I actually was anxious to watch this first episode as I am baby boomer from the 60′s. I love period tv shows but as usual, casting for these characters have to be done by young people because they have no clue what reality is or was in 1963. The 2 Pilots cannot be more then 20 years old yet back then, airline had very strict regulations as to age requirements and those youngsters should not be cast in those roles. I noticed one shot looking down the aisle and it was much wider then real airplanes and it looked like it was 8 feet wide–rediculous.The stewardesses did not wear tons of makeup like those gals wore in that show and I realize it is Hollywood but if they cannot come close to what was reality back then, I will not watch the show again.

    • Good points, Bill, but you are wrong about the makeup. Pan Am included makeup classes in training school and yes, we were required to wear it. Remember, this was not just any ordinary airline. We were supposed to be the world’s best.

  8. Please get the Art Direction right. SQUARE PAN AM ABGS from 1962-1970. These scary things they are carrying have nothing to do with the original icon square bags. Also shorter hair and please check the uniforms. These ladies looked great because they were designer uniforms. Nothing else matters…

    • I agree. I was a Pan Am Stewardess in 1970 so I know what I’m talking about.The uniforms- wrong (far too bright a blue), Hair VERY WRONG (weren’t allowed to have hair hanging below our jawline or silly bangs smashed under our hats). Young swinging pilots with shags VERY WRONG.
      Service on the plane wrong, and Scary weight-check Matron with tweed suit and bun-hair-wrong. We did have weight check (too bad they don’t do that now!) but the checker wasn’t a scary witch like the one in the show.
      Disappointing overall.

      • Nino, I was senior to you and am older. But I loved the show. Brought back many good memories of the 5 years I flew for PAA, even if some of the details were off. Can’t believe it has been 43 years.

        It was the greatest time of my life as a young girl.

        There can’t be more than one Nino Sutcliffe in this world. My best to you and your family from one of the CCC family.

  9. I cannot believe that ABC cancelled Brothers and Sisters for this show. It was “okay”. I kind of like the whole 1960s jet age glamour theme and all, but seriously, B&S was a way better show. I am VERY disappointed with ABC for giving it the ax.

  10. I agree the pilots were not that young. 99% of them were grizzly veterans with years of flying experience not young faced cute guys who look like they just graduated from flight school….all and all i enjoyed it trememdously…I grew up in Ghana so i remember when Pan Am flew several of my relatives from JFK to Accra for the holidays.There’s a Clipper i wont soon forget ,Clipper Tony Janus”…..

  11. It seems that pictures above are not of Vogel the Captain of Pan Am. Who is pictured? And why?

  12. Background music too loud

  13. Is it just because I am 67 that the 2 pilots look like they just got their first driver’s license, or seemed at best to be a couple of college guys. Highly unlikely Pan Am populated the cockpit’s left seat(captain)of their newest planes and longest routes with college age green horns. Credibility took a beating on that.

  14. I remember the Pan Am flight attendants well when I was a small child. I left Cuba in a freedom flight and they were so accommodating and beautiful. They made my very scary experience leaving a totalatarian country seem less scary. I think there should be a show about this. Even though, I believe, the flights were suspended right in 1963. I enjoyed the show.

  15. how dare you think people of color want to watch Pan=Am the most prejudice airlines that existed .No we have not forgotten how badly they treated African Americans.History and facts please tell the networks that the truth about Pan-Am does not quite cut-it.And the word is spreading not to take favor in this show at all.this is not a personal attack this is their history.now watch what happens to your rating

    • Exactly where were you descriminated against? I never saw it. To me, it was a wonderful opportunity to mix with people of all nations. We had plenty of African American Stewardesses. Our crews were all nationalities, that’s why I’m curious about your statement.

      • Pan Am first started using flight attendants in 1929. They didn’t hire an African-American flight attendant until the mid 1960′s.

      • In reply to your curiousity about my facts only means you were not to concerned about the struggle for equal rights on the job. Complaints were being filed in catastrophic amounts. So besides observing a African american stewardess every now and then did you notice any other workers. Are
        shall we say tokens workers. But besides that it takes more to run a airline besides pilots and stewardesses.So please enjoy your memories we were to busy filing lawsuits.

        • Of course I would be concerned. You haven’t told me where it happened. I did not begin flying until the late 60′s. I flew out of LAX with several black stewardesses, was not aware of any descrimination. Why would you possibly think that would mean I wouldn’t be concerned? All it means is that I did not know it was happening.

          Why don’t you tell me about it?

  16. I sure hope this show will excite women to wear nylon stockings again. Love the classy dress styles

  17. Pan Am: “Love Boat” in the sky. The only question is which series will crash and burn first: Pan Am or The Playboy Club. Both are doomed for the TV scrap-yard.

    • You are correct. Both Pan Am and Playboy Club are cheesy imitations of Mad Men. They reek of an Aaron Spelling production. So cheesy and inauthentic, with bad dialogue, etc. You feel as if you are getting a bad history lesson as told by ditzy Pan Am stewardesses who know all and have seen all.

  18. I like the feed back from the people who worked for the airlines, I know motorcycles and cars and it drives me crazy when a movie is set in 63 and the car in the scenes a 65( nice to know others like correct uniforms, bags etc.too) so keep up the good info and maybe ABC well hear the feedback. I enjoy stuff from the era its kind of an temporary ,escape from all reality junk on tv these days.

    • I’m with you. Very little I enjoy watching anymore.

  19. I can’t believe that this show is a better option for the time slot than the canceled Brothers & Sisters. Bring Sally Fields and Calista Flockart back and send this show to the dumper.

  20. This sounds like an interesting show. I have to get caught up!

  21. great comments here

    • My experience with Pan Am started with the VIP lounge at SFO in 1963.. I was a 8 yro. My dad would fly to NY one a month and the whole family would put on our sunday best to see him off or pick him up.. The Stews uniforms are close but not correct and the cockpit crews were a lot older.. They are treated me like gold. Probably why I joined the USAF and went on to fall in love with a former PAA now United flight attendant. My favorite flight was 747SP (Clipper Constitution) LAX to Tko in 76. I’ll will never forget you Bets.

  22. Isn’t Christina Ricci too short to be a stewardess? If memory serves me correctly a stewardess needed to be at least 5’5″.

  23. I was very disappointed in this series. Way to many story lines that don’t intersect meaningfully. The four girls could be placed in any situation, and you would essentially have the same confusing plot. Sadly, the airline has little to do with anything, other than rekindle a bygone era. I won’t be on board for future episodes. This flight left me cold.

  24. I was hoping this would be more of a show about airplanes, pilots, stewardesses, all happily enjoying a simpler, more innocent time and exalting in the pure joy of flying and world travel. Instead we pretty much are getting a multifaceted, mostly depressing soap opera with some pretty girls (OK Ladies. I’m 67) in pretty blue uniforms. Can’t we just have fun and fly and escape today’s headlines?

  25. I love this new show, especially that French air stewardess. It’s a drama people, not a documentary show on Pan America itself!

    • I agree Jesslyn and I love just seeing the clothes and all of that time. I am almost 70 and enjoy pointing out things to my two grown daughters. I hope this show stays around, people my age get tired of watching all the blood and gore of most shows on TV….even if it is a lot more true to life, we enjoy the nostalgia of yesteryear.

    • Jesslyn ….. it may be a drama and not a documentary, but that is beside the point. The show is only a period piece in setting. It may be 1963, but it really is 2011 in sensibilities, characterization, attitudes, etc. The show is really about female empowerment but it is totally inauthentic. Good drama should portray the era it is set in with some respect for authenticity. This show portrays the sensibilities of today and projects them back to 1962 or 63. You want a real show: try Mad Men. Pan Am and Playboy Club are cheesy imitations. Mad Men shows the era the way it really was and doesn’t over-stylize and create characters that are inauthentic to the era. Pan Am could just as easily be Charlie’s Angels or some female ensemble show where the babes kick butt and manipulate their men without the hint of the reality of that era. The reality was that women had to be deferential and get their way with a a lot more subtlety and passive-aggressiveness. This show is a fraud.

      • Oh Edward….I can see that you never met a Pan Am stewardess! There was nothing deferential about them.

        • I’m sure that in bed, that was very true of them!

          • Oh Edward, aren’t you a gentleman! That’s something that no longer exists in the world, either.

            • Oh Really?!! What doesn’t exist in the world anymore? For one, Pan Am stewardesses don’t exist, and neither Pan Am. But stewardesses garnered the same reputations as nurses. They were expected to perform in all areas, right?

              My main point is that this show is totally inauthentic. Mad Men is the only series that depicts this era authentically.

              • I think you’ve proved my point.

                • LInda H.
                  You seem to think a lot of this show. But it is totally false. Your memories aside, Airline stewardesses were bimbos. They weren’t smart enough to engage in espionage. What else did you and Lawrence Olivier do after he recited Shakespeare to you? Was if Love’s Labor Lost or what?

                  So you had a few adventures 40,000 feet high. Wow!! Airline stewardesses were still there to serve and to service.

                  I am sick and tired of hearing how great this show is. It is beyond bad!! It is totally cheesy and inauthentic. I watch it to laugh at it and now await for the new season of Mad Men, a real show!!

          • Edward.

            Dude – that’s over the line. Relax and don’t be insulting.


  26. This show does not recognize people of color as an integral part of society. So I will not waste my time and will share my option to as many others as possible. People of color were in great positions in this era, just not in eyes of the main stream…………

    • They don’t recognize people of color period. I suppose they don’t exist as far as this show is concerned. 3-4 episodes in, this is the whitest show I have ever seen.

      • Ratings are down 27% from the week before. Yay!! It won’t be long before this elitist POS show is cancelled.

  27. What a disappointment. The only reason for watching this show is to view the dozens of inaccuracies and trade with like minded viewers. As ranted by so many already the pilots are to young to be credible even for today, there are few airlines that would have such a young cockpit crew on long-haul aircraft. The episode yesterday set in Berlin was just silly, and the quick flash of a Lufthansa aircraft taxiing past the building? LH didn’t fly to Berlin for almost 40 years. The architecture was a dead give away, it may have been a lot of places, but not Berlin , oh and the actress that played Anneke? German pronunciation was so amateur drama society all we needed was ‘ve haf vays and means of making you tawk’ . ABC shareholders, you money is being wasted.

  28. Very sad presentation .. being used for propaganda … incorrect and ingenious

  29. Manners….that’s what I miss most about those times. There are some angry posters here, sad…

    • Yeah Linda H., don’t you just hate it when people don’t know how to stay in their place…..

      Not everyone buys into your “Leave it to Beaver” version of Pan Am and the time period it portrays. An elitist airline that wouldn’t hire people of color until they were dragged into court. The show is doing a great job in one area. They are accurately reflecting the racial attitudes of the company during that time. They making darn sure that people of color are not seen or heard. Can’t wait for this show to CRASH AND BURN.

      • Great attitude, Jordan. Bet it’s taken you far.

        • Linda H, before you spend the rest of the month looking down your nose at me, you may need to know I have worked for the past 20 years in your field – the aerospace industry. I won’t go into specifics, but the next time you are on a plane that is flying in bad weather or low visibility, be very glad that I am very good at what I do and have always taken my job quite seriously.

          • Jordon, I’m not looking down my nose at you. I was referring to your attitude. I’m very glad to hear you are so successful.

            • Linda H., I’d like to apologize for the mean things I said to you. I still have issues with the show but that has nothing to do with you. I just need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. All the best to you and your family. Take care.