October 3, 2011


More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.

Previously… on PAN AM:  In the early 1960s, 4 stewardesses fly glamorously from continent to continent, hungry for adventure and juggling personal issues.  Maggie (Christina Ricci) is a Greenwich Village intellectual who puts on the Pan Am girdle to see the world; Colette (Karine Vanasse) has been having an affair with a married man; and Kate (Kelli Garner) and Laura (Margot Robbie) are sisters–Kate helped her younger sibling escape the conformity of her wedding day, but the two have jealousy issues.  Also, a fifth stewardess named Bridget (Annabelle Wallis) has vanished, and it turns out she’s been working for the CIA and MI5 as a spy–and now Kate is her replacement.

Episode 2:  A very smooth flight, all things considered.  The main change from the original version of the pilot is that Dean, the pilot at the head of our heroines’ crew, has been recast with Mike Vogel–he’s fine, but this show belongs first and foremost to its women.  Also, as with last week’s Charlie’s Angels, ABC moved this episode up from being 3d to air to 2d, which since Pan Am is somewhat serialized, required some deft editing to avoid references to things we won’t see till next week. (This presumably means we shouldn’t get our hopes up for the quality of next week’s episode.)

Pan Am is very much the airline that the men of Sterling Cooper would fly on their expense account business trips (before they became the more budget-conscious Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce):  sleek, luxurious and loaded with beautiful, interesting women.  The second (or “second”) episode, written by series creator/Executive Producer Jack Orman and Producer Mike Daniels, and directed by Christopher Misiano (like Orman, a veteran of ER), follows the flight plan of the pilot, with the first two-thirds set on an overseas flight (this time to Paris) interspersed with a few flashbacks, and the last 20 minutes in the city itself

The episode resolves several of the stories set up in the pilot, while setting up some new ones.  Kate’s spy intrigue this time leads her to a reunion with Bridget, who explains that she had been compromised on a previous mission and now has to go into the spy equivalent of witness protection with a new identity (presumably taking her out of the show); meanwhile, now that Dean, who had been in love with Bridget, and Colette, who’s done with her married boyfriend, are both single, the two of them seem aimed for romance.  In the other main plotline, Kate and Laura’s mother shows up as a passenger on the flight, and she’s brought Laura’s ex-fiance to Paris.  By episode’s end, Laura has told her ex that the two of them are really over, and Kate and her mother have had a heart-to-heart.  There’s also a nod to Mad Menesque sexual mores when a boozy passenger makes a pass at Maggie and she stabs him with a fork.
It’s likely to take a bit of time for Pan Am to balance its triple goals of telling soapy stories, mixing in some espionage, and tackling the changing era of the 60s.  Right now, it’s an uncertain mix–the spy story feels like it was carried in bodily from another show, and any time the series invites direct comparison to Mad Men, it’s asking for trouble.  Also, both the pilot and initial episode weirdly underuse Christina Ricci, who’s supposed to be the star of the ensemble.  Still, the show is entertaining enough to make its bumpy take-off endurable.  The women are far less bluntly drawn than their parallels on The Playboy Club, and there’s some bright dialogue and breezier storytelling. The production design and photography are pure pleasure to watch, perhaps not achieving the stunning artistry of, yes, Mad Men, but far more accomplished than Playboy Club.

Pan Am got off to a good ratings start last week, and we’ll know soon enough how many passengers boarded for the connecting flight.  So far, it’s one of the season’s higher-flying new dramas.

Original Verdict:  If Nothing Else Is On…
Pilot + 1:  Gaining Altitude

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."