PAN AM “Pilot” Review

PAN AM “Pilot” Season 1 Episode 1 – In our world of baggage fees, strip searches and ten dollar honey-roasted peanuts, the new series Pan Am harkens back to the early days of air travel when flying was a pleasure, not a punishment. It also might be my favorite new series of the television season.

It’s 1963 and the Pan Am stewardesses (not flight attendants) are the beautiful face of the jet age. One in particular, Laura Cameron (Margot Robbie) has even graced the cover of Life magazine, much to the chagrin of her sister, Kate (Kelli Garner), who got her the job after encouraging her to ditch her perfect life and practically-arranged marriage to see the world. You get the feeling Kate is used to (and tired of) being upstaged by her little sister.

Perhaps that’s what led Kate to accepting a job with US Intelligence. Her first assignment happens to coincide with the launch of Pan Am’s newest clipper. On a transatlantic flight to London, she’s instructed to replace a Russian passenger’s passport with a fake one which will keep him from entering the country. Turns out it’s just a test and the Ruskie is actually her MI6 contact, but she passes and becomes the latest operative in the Cold War.

History and drama are woven together, perhaps not as intricately or skillfully as in Mad Men, but the only clunky moment was the flashback to a freedom flight during the Bay of Pigs. Manned by most of our new family of characters, it really only served to introduce Bridget (Annabelle Wallis) who in addition to being romantically involved with Captain Dean Lowery (Mike Vogel), seems to have been the stewardess intelligence contact before Kate. Her disappearance before the clipper’s inaugural flight leads to the introduction of Maggie Ryan (Christina Ricci), a slightly rebellious stewardess (she doesn’t like to wear her girdle) who replaces her as the purser. Was Gopher not available?

We also meet Collette Valois (Karine Vanesse), a French stewardess who had no idea that the regular passenger she’s been sleeping with was a husband and a father until he shows up on the flight with both the wife and the kid. Of course, the wife knows about Collette and makes it quite clear that she’s to keep her immaculate white gloves off. This is why the French smoke and drink so much; they can never, ever be happy.

I hesitate to say this because I’ve been burned before (coughStudio60ontheSunsetStripcough), but I think I might love this show. Is it perfect? No, but it’s entertaining. There’s romance and intrigue and history with a touch of scandal and the faintest whiff of a changing world. Yet it doesn’t portray the 1960’s as some medieval time period where men routinely pinched bottoms and lifted skirts. In contrast to how Don Draper and company treat the women of Sterling Cooper, the male flight crew are friendly with the stewardesses and Captain Dean even goes so far as to chastise his randier co-pilot for attempting to seduce any of them.

It’s a shame that the world has changed so much that the idea of air travel is exhausting rather than enchanting, but it’s nice to have a show like Pan Am that reminds us it wasn’t always about full body scanners and overbooked flights. It was glamor and adventure…and escape.

What did you think of the episode? Why did Bridget decide to disappear? How did Maggie’s hair go from beatnik to bob in thirty minutes? Let me know below!