The fall TV season is underway and, despite the ever-lower numbers of women in the writers’ rooms, it’s being hailed as the year of the women: 17 out of the 25 new scripted shows on the Big Five networks are female-centered and many were created by women. In this series, comedian Leila Cohan-Miccio watches the new female-centered shows and evaluates how realistic their portrayals of women actually are. Today, Pan Am.
Obvious comparisons first: as far as 60s-set shows go, Pan Am may not be as subtle and smart as Mad Men, but it’s nowhere near the clunker level of The Playboy Club. Though the pilot offered more backstory than plot, the characters are engaging and there’s some real promise here.
Pan Am follows a flight crew on the eponymous airline: stewardesses (they wouldn’t become flight attendants for twenty years) bohemian Maggie (Christina Ricci), spy (!) Kate (Kelli Garner), runaway bride Laura (Margot Robbie), and sexually adventurous Colette (Karine Vanesse), sunny captain Dean (Mike Vogel), and crew Ted (Michael Mosley), and Sanjeev (Kal Parekh), as they fly a new plane’s maiden voyage from New York to London.
Pan Am spends a lot of time peddling the glamour of flying in the 1960s, and oh god, is it effective. When a stewardess doesn’t show up for the flight, the airline sends a helicopter to go get Maggie so the plane leaves on time, something that’s pretty damn hard to imagine in an era where I’ve had flights delayed several hours because of vague “gate issues.” The plane is equipped with little table hang-out areas that are set with real vases with fresh flowers! Newlyweds get a bottle of champagne to take with them!
Both Pan Am and Playboy Club put forth the thesis that jobs that seem sexist now were actually really empowering for women in the 1960s. Pan Am is much more convincing about it for two reasons. First, the show is honest about the parts that were terrible: weigh-ins, mandatory girdles, sexist crew members. Second, you can actually see the benefits, beyond just money, the women were receiving. As Maggie puts it, “I get to see the world.” Flying schedules were more leisurely, leaving time to explore the cities Pan Am flew to, and it was a legitimately adventurous job. Unlike Playboy Club, women are the center of Pan Am, and they get more to do than looking alternatingly nervous and carefree. Pan Am also gets points for the four central women genuinely liking each other and not resorting to a gross ladies-are-always-competing-with-each-other attitude. Though Maggie, Kate, Laura, and Colette may not be fully realized characters yet, Pan Am‘s pilot was strong enough that I’ll tune in again to watch them develop.
(Photo: Google images)