Sunday, September 25, 2011

Will ABC's Pan Am Fly? A Review

Marketing ABC's Pan Am. This came with today's Times.
ABC's self-proclaimed, yet so far unrealized blockbuster, is certainly gorgeous to look at.  The planes, the blue sky, the blue uniforms, the Mad Men look and especially the people, are all beautiful.

But I'm not so sure it's going to stay in/on the air.

Of course, the first episode is just a set-up.  There was a lot groundwork to lay, which included flashbacks, so I'll try to be fair by saying it's hard to know exactly where the show is going.
  There are many characters who look alike, particularly the women in uniforms, so it's hard to distinguish, at first glance, who's who and what's what.

The essence seems to be that Pan Am is full of exciting people who "want to see the world" and we'll meet them.  We'll find out who's running away from something, who's sleeping with whom, who's a troublemaker and even who's working for the CIA.

Like Playboy Club, there's the requisite 60's misogyny.  The women have to weigh in.  They're not allowed to be married and they're required to wear girdles (Spanx for younger readers).  In essence, the female airline employees are treated like dancers at a men's club.  Frankly, I find that difficult to watch.

Equally sad is that many of the characters seem to be suffering from some past trauma and that the tone of the show is somewhat foreboding of further trouble.

What's more peculiar is that the producers don't seem to be springing for location shooting.  I expected shots of London, Paris and other exotic places, but the closest thing to Paris we saw was a snow globe with the Eiffel Tower inside.  Instead, there are cheesy indoor shots on sound sets, albeit those dressed up like Rome, and more than enough scenes inside the plane.

What this all adds up to is a sort of maudlin undertone for a show that was promised as something fresh and uplifting like the 60's era of freedom and new-found excitement.

On the other hand, the network clearly wants this show to succeed.  In addition to a couple of big stars like Christina Ricci and a high powered director/producer - Thomas Schlamme of the West Wing - the marketing campaign has been phenomenal. 

There can't be a person in the U.S. who isn't aware of Pan Am the TV show. Even within the program, there's advertising.  There are so many Pan Am logos about that if the actual airline wasn't extinct, you'd think it was product placement.

Given the amount of money ABC is pouring into this project, I'll reserve total judgement.  Someone at the highest level believes in this program and is betting on it.  It's too early to retract the flaps.  For now, it's wings up.


  1. I would love to see Pan Am fly again. To your point, they are putting so much money into the marketing campaign that it would make it fairly easy for anybody considering going into the market to consider using the Pan Am brand (if they can afford it).

    Luxury flying just isn't the same as it used to be.

  2. Such a good point, Michael. I was actually thinking the same thing. If someone had the capital to buy the name and start an airline with class, they'd do very well.