Ah. The 60s. Doesn’t everyone love those nostalgic times when men drank scotch and all the ladies roamed around in skirts….actually no, to me that sounds awful. Scotch smells like crap and if you tried to get me in a skirt, someone’s getting a foot to the face. But yes, people seem to really love the 1960s as a period of change and decadence in America, even if those years were also filled with the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and bell-bottoms.
So ABC would be crazy not to make a TV show based on one of the most innovating forces of the decade. No, not NASA, Pan Am, one of the first major airline companies, and certainly the most iconic. But seeing as it’s unlikely to snag another season on air, let’s look at what made this sure-fire bet crash and burn.
Pan Am follows the adventures of four flight attendants, Colette, Maggie, Laura, and Kate, all of whom fly around the world on a daily basis, living out their lives in the swinging 1960s, along with their pilots Dean and Ted. If I needed to sum up all six major players in one word, it’d be bland. They all have one or two defining traits, and rarely do they stray from them, save for the sake of plot convenience. Colette is French and traumatized by the Nazis invasion of France, Maggie is a two-faced beatnik who swaps ideologies when it suits her, Laura is a good-two-shoes trying hard to be adventurous and fun, and Kate, Laura’s sister, is a panicky, devious spy. Dean and Ted are guys – that’s it. They sleep around, they have guy talk, they change around their love interests whenever it serves a point. Bland, bland, bland.
I’m just going to come out and say it. The real problem isn’t the characters, flawed as they may be. No, in fact it’s the plot that’s the real stem of the problem. Pan Am tries to both nostalgic about the 1960s and deal with ever major event in that decade, be it the Kennedy speech in Berlin, political activism, the Cuban missile crisis, warlords in Haiti, sexism, racism, the Cold War, nudity and art, and that’s only half of the season. Hell, they even throw in the sexual revolution and interracial love, for funnzies.
One of two things happened here: 1, the script writes were trying to cram everything in as tight as they could to grab as many brownie points with older viewers, or 2, they didn’t find their focus and just put in whatever they thought could work thematically/be popular with audiences. And sometimes, it works. One of the earliest episodes was Maggie almost assaulted by a passenger, in which Ted saves her and makes excuses for her “behavior,” and Maggie tells him that the reason she becomes angry with him is that Ted just made it so that passenger can assault another attendant openly and freely. That works really well.
The spy subplot with Kate, however, does not. Kate is recruited by MI6 to work as a courier and she encounters many trials and tribulations throughout the season. The biggest issue is that it is too far-fetched. A young lady, totally untrained, is not the best agent, and someone who travels around the world frequently would be an A-List suspect when looking for potential spies. I get that it was supposed to had intrigue, mystique, and tension, but it was my least favorite part of the show. A lot of the plot also makes the characters make rash decisions and go against their established characters, which just proves that they didn’t have much of a focus. And again, sometimes it worked, but mostly it was jarring.
No, if there were one thing I liked about the show, and where it really shown through was how it looked. You couldn’t ask for a higher budget, or a better design team. It looks and feels like the 1960s, with time relevant pieces and mostly correct to period props. It’s clean and neat and symmetrical – it’s the 1960s reborn in the 21st century, which I am sure wasn’t easy to pull off.
If this review seems a little on the shorter side its because there isn’t much to say about this show – it’s okay. Not good, or great, or very memorable, but okay. It filled time. ABC cancelled the series, and even though there are talks of it getting picked up for a second season by another company, I don’t think it’ll happen. It just goes to show that not even the most hyped show can fail if poorly written and unable to hold the attention of an audience.
Next month’s review depends on what I’ll be able to see, but hopefully either a whole show, or a discussion of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone.