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Monday, September 26, 2011

The Televangelist: 'Pan Am' Series Premiere

Ready for lift off! ... Hows my makeup?
  • ABC.com
  • Ready for liftoff! ... How's my makeup?

I have to get something off my chest first and foremost: one of my primary interests in this show was Jonah Lotan (Generation Kill) who played the cocky captain Dean in the unaired pilot (from which all of the early promos were based). Imagine my surprise to tune in and see Mike Vogel (The Help) in his place instead! I couldn't find an explanation for what I clearly find to be a terrible mistake, but that's the way the cookie crumbles (to use a cliché that would have been right in line with last night's offerings).

I also want to get this elephant in the room out of the way: this is not "Mad Men." It really doesn't deserve any comparison. It's not about an ad agency, it's not about a complex man going through an existential crisis, and as Matthew Weiner said, "I don't have a monopoly on the era."

But what "Pan Am" is may be just fine. The comparisons to "Mad Men" are inevitable, although "The Playboy Club" may be a fairer peer. Sure the one-liners are cheesy, the music is over-amped and the drama is beyond melodramatic … but this is a network drama. What were you expecting, "The Wire"?

Premiere episodes are tough. They have to establish a believable trajectory for their characters while piling on everything they have to offer and setting up future narratives all at the same time. Which is how we get a few messy (and, in my opinion, largely unnecessary) flashbacks to how our flight crew came to be where they are. Still, we're left with some interesting (if highly implausible - I'm looking at you, spy plot!) arcs: the sibling rivalry between spunky Kate (Kelli Garner) and the unbelievably beautiful Laura (Margot Robbie), the Trials of Love, starring the sweet and fresh-faced Colette (Karine Vanasse), plus the Further Trials of Love staring Captain Dean. Dean and Kate's stories intersect without them knowing through Bridget (Annabelle Wallis), a shadowy British figure who apparently works with MI:6 and the CIA finding new "talent" while capturing impressionable young captain's hearts. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. And yes, it really is ridiculous. But I couldn't help but be charmed, as lover of period pieces, by the costumes and the hairstyles and the decor, and as such I was willing to forget many of the missteps (we shall not mention, for instance, the helicopter ride).

My worst fear for "Pan Am" is that it becomes a sort of "Grey's Anatomy" of the skies. My second fear is that it won't be nearly that interesting. The preview for next week just shows more hints of low-grade iniquities ("We're not in Kansas anymore!"), but to pull out that tired comparison again, "Mad Men" has made an art of showing nothing in their previews (and being a show that doesn't have a lot of obvious trajectory). I'm sticking around with "Pan Am" for as long as it stays around, and, on a personal note, it will be nice to review a new show where for once I truly have no idea where it's headed (though I'm not convinced it does, either). Still … ooo look at that bag!

Musings and Miscellanea:

— Colette is definitely the most likable character so far, and she's easy to sympathize with. And the change up of the wife toying with her throughout the flight was the most cunning thing the show did the entire hour.

— I didn't bother mentioning Christina Ritchie's Maggie, because she didn't really have much to do. And is it just me or is she cribbing some of Christina Hendrick's acting style?

— Did we really need to bring the Bay of Pigs into this? Further mention of the Cold War might be interesting, though.

— We never saw the groom at the wedding - was he really so terrible? I feel sorry for the guy!

— "All Pan Am stewardesses are college educated, speak multiple languages, and remain with Pan Am until they are married or turn 32."

— I loved that "I would do anything for love … but I won't do that" look Kate gave Laura when she said she wanted to join her as a stewardess!

— I thought that single-tear at the rainy window might be the last of Bridget, but it seems she'll be around for most of the upcoming episodes (per IMDB)

— Most importantly, what did you guys think?

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