Pan Am is the very definition of "second wave" TV. From very early into the series, you find yourself aware that you're watching a show that really wouldn't have got commissioned – probably not even written – were it not for the success of Mad Men. It lacks everything that makes Mad Men great – actual social commentary, engaging characters and the confidence to swagger a bit.
At its heart, Pan Am is, I suppose, some kind of lame exploration of the gender divide in the 60s. It's not exactly new territory and it doesn't really have much to add to the discourse so it quickly slips into what it really is, which is a high-budget soap opera. The main cast are divided into stewardesses and pilots and, really, the focus is on the former.
It's all a little boring, to be honest. The main character Maggie, played by Christina Ricci, is presented as free-thinking and liberated and progressive but seems awfully happy to be dolled up and subservient. One of the other girls is a spy, one is a mistress, there are some sisters and some jealousy... I lost the plot threads by the end of the first episode because when you're introducing this many new characters to an audience, maybe having them all wearing the same clothes is a bit exhausting.
The storylines didn't really hold my attention and I found myself completely uninvested in the whole set-up. That said, it's a beautiful thing to look at. This is one of the better looking TV shows and really blurs the line between the production values of TV and cinema. It's a heightened reality that the show creates - it feels slightly cartoonish and as garish as a Doris Day film – but it's certainly an impressive world they create. I didn't make it all the way to the end of this first (and, it would appear, only...) season. The storylines demanded too much investment for far too poor a return and it seems that viewing audiences felt the same way.
It was a bold effort, there is clearly room and demand for more and more woman-centric decent budget prime time TV shows. This could have really been something interesting. It doesn't crash and burn, it just never really takes off. Sorry.
EXTRAS ★½ Pan Am comes with a handful of short featurettes: Becoming A Pan Am Stewardess (5:41); The Life Of A Stewardess (3:13); The Plane Set (2:20); (The Berlin Set (1:33); Interview With Nancy Ganis, Executive Producer & Former Pan Am Stewardess (3:54).